December 20, 2014

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 21, 2014, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH


(Click here for today’s readings

About 20 years ago I was asked to speak to a group of candidates in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, on the topic of “de-creation,” i.e., the fall of Adam and Eve and its negative impact of on creation and history. I began by showing them a very beautiful, truly artistic mug that had been given to me. It reflected the love of the artist, and of the one who gave it to me, just as the world created by God reflected his love.

A little bit later, I “accidentally” knocked the mug off the podium and it shattered on the floor. As it began to fall, everyone in the group gasped.

I concluded, “That is what creation did when Adam and Eve reached for the forbidden fruit. All creation gasped, crying out: ‘No! No! No!’”

Almost 900 years ago, St. Bernard of Clairvaux delivered four homilies on today’s Gospel. Each one is easily four or five times as long as today’s average homily. In a translation published in 1909 the four homilies take up a total of 50 pages.

After various explanations of different parts of the text, St. Bernard comes to the decisive moment when Mary has to give her answer. At this point he places himself in the position not of commentator but of observer, even of participant.

He calls to her: “You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

"The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

“Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

“Why do you delay? Why are you afraid?”

Finally, Mary speaks. " Behold the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done unto me according to thy word."  Here St. Bernard takes himself out of the story and returns to his original role of commentator.

If I may go back to the image of my shattered mug and “de-creation,” I would add that, at moment of Mary’s fiat, her “Yes,” all creation breathed an ecstatic sigh of relief and cried out jubilantly, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
In the first reading, God says “No” to David’s plan to build a temple. But that was followed immediately by God’s magnanimous “Yes” to David’s faithful heart.

St. Paul writes about the “obedience of faith.” We find it in David. We find it in Mary. This isn’t merely doing what one is told. It is founded on the acceptance of God’s word and the deep desire to live by it.

We might call Advent an “attractive” season, with all its prophecies of hope and promises of salvation. If we can take full advantage of the few days remaining, we will be able to rejoice, joining our “Yes!” to that of all creation as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Let every Christmas carol, every Christmas gift, every Christmas greeting be a “Yes!” to his coming and to the meaning that his coming brings into our lives, not only at this time of year, but at all times and in all places.

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