With the sun going down on the shortest day of the year, it is now the Vigil of the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The celebration of Our Lord’s Nativity is three days away. Many of us are engaged in those last-minute Christmas preparations. In our home, we are finishing up the candy and cookies, and there are still some gifts to finish or to wrap or package. If we have all taken Advent is as we should, if we have used this liturgical season to truly ponder the coming of Christ, both in the first and the eventual second instance, then we are ready both physically and spiritually to celebrate Christmas. We should be looking to Tuesday night with some degree of happy anticipation.
We would be remiss, however, if we did not remember that there are those during this season of the year who will truly be without. By this, I do not mean without presents or even without a traditional Christmas meal spread, but without shelter from the cold, without clothing for their back, without a family or friends to show them that they are loved and valued and precious in the eyes of God. In this holy season of the year, we do have those in our midst who are without those things. Their Christmas wish is to survive.
It is too easy to forget those people at this time of the year. We are all so busy, and with good reason, that we often forget the people living in the shadows of our existence. Some are homeless, hungry or abused. Many more are simply alone, with no one to call on. The elderly in long-term care facilities especially come to mind this time of year, some of them are forgotten by a culture that is always on the go and in a hurry. They, along with many others, are the people who are often left behind in our national obsession to get where we are going, even though we never seem quite sure of where that destination is. Pope Francis has said that societies can often be judged by how it treats the very young and the very old. On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, as the Lord draws near to us, how would our society stand in the divine scale of justice?
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.
This passage is the very one that Jesus used to identify himself as the Messiah to the people of his hometown in Luke 4:17-21. There are many places in the Gospels where we find that Jesus charges the Twelve not to tell anyone yet that he is the Christ, but he is rejected by the very people who knew him best (very likely including some members of his extended family) for coming right out and spilling the beans about his anointed status. Most of the people listening to Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth that day understood the words that Jesus quoted from the Book of Isaiah to be a messianic prophecy. Most of them openly rejected this revelation that their neighbor, or their cousin, that carpenter’s son, was the prophesied Redeemer of Israel. The Messiah is supposed to throw off the yoke of foreign oppression, not be a laborer in the family shop.
The beauty of Jesus Christ is that he is our Messiah and Redeemer, our Savior and Lord, and he understands us because he has lived not only as we live in this world (certainly as people of his time lived), but he lived a life of such simplicity that he would not even be a footnote in history were he not exactly who he said that he was. Further, while he came to redeem all of humanity, he said specifically that he came to “bring good tidings to the poor.” Jesus had what can only be described as a deep love for the poor, he lived among them and chose to live the last years of his life as a man “with no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58) He also spent a great deal of his ministry reaching out to outcasts and sinners, those who “respectable” society scorned. When the Messiah came, the one who makes all things new (cf. Rev. 21:5), he opened the door for anyone who wanted to be one with God to come, no matter how “unclean” society thought they were. He even gave us the gift of himself on the Cross, and in the Holy Eucharist.
So as we enter what are now effectively the closing days and hours of Advent for the Liturgical Year 2014, remember the people who Jesus said that he came to bring glad tidings to. The poor, yes, especially those without much in the way of the material comforts of this world. We should remember not only those people who suffer from material poverty, however, who Jesus told us would always be with us (cf. Matt. 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8), but those who suffer from poverty of the spiritual kind as well. Some of us have family members or friends who might not make the Lord a priority in their life, or who are far from the Church for various reasons which, for some folks, only they may truly know. Without rendering judgment, we should pray for reconciliation and peace for those loved ones according to the Lord’s time and will.
Others suffer from a spiritual impoverishment brought about from being marginalized or alone, especially people with few living family members, or family that are far away from where they are. If you know someone with no place to come home to for Christmas, may I be so bold as to suggest that you consider inviting that person to Christmas dinner in your home or with your family? If space makes that impossible, surprise someone with a plate of food, or a basket of sweets. Remember especially during the Christmas season those in nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, and group homes whose family are not near them. I know from experience that those folks treasure visitors during Christmastide, some of them have very few. Not least of all are military personnel stationed far from their families. They should never be far from our prayers.
Above all, lift up your heads, for the Lord is near…