Advent (4): He Is Present

4th Sunday of Advent (C) – December 19, 2021

St. Paul – Lyons, KS

Micah 5:1-4a; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

It’s As Simple As a Baby

I was preparing my homily for today, and I’m not going to lie, it was brilliant stuff, like usual. It was incorporating all the different elements of the Old Testament, and how they are brought together and summed up in Jesus. Something about how Jesus, the New Adam, is the Faithful Suffering Servant Messiah King who will confront and judge evil thereby bringing us, by baptism, through his own passion and cross to the glory of the resurrection. Brilliant, I know. You can probably still find a copy of it in my trash can. But yeah, I was just moved to throw it out, to toss it.

We’ve been talking all Advent about how we are all waiting for something, something amazing. That this “something” is actually “someone” that can come and rescue us from that downward spiral we’ve put ourselves in. But also, that this someone that is coming, comes in judgement—which is actually what we want: someone that will judge and set things right, set things right within us.

But here in the eight days before Christmas, there is a shift. All during Advent we’ve been focused on Jesus coming again. But now we make a shift, we turn our attention to Jesus’ first coming. And we do that because time and time again we have to turn our attention to a simple fact. The one who loves you, the one who wants nothing but your love, the one—the someone—you’ve been waiting for, is here…present among us.

I get it, it doesn’t make sense. We are probably expecting something much different. When we think about what we need, when we start to examine our experience, we would probably have a long list of everything we thought we were waiting for: the iPhone 25, the country to stop being so crazy, for your kid to get his life together, for whatever it is.

But this simple answer, the unexpected answer, is this pregnant woman—it’s the baby she carries. It always strikes me: in the darkness of the womb, without even seeing him, John the Baptist still leapt with joy, he still rejoiced because he knew the Lord was present, he rejoiced because that something was there. Or when Jesus is born, there is that famous scene where Mary and Joseph take him to the Temple, and there is that man Simeon. And Simeon, just by seeing this child proclaims: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace, your word has been fulfilled: for my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every nation.” It’s just a baby…but for some reason, everything changed. Everything changed. By his very presence, everything changed.

The “something” we’re waiting for is not a socio-political something, it is not people finally following wonderful legislation based on Christian dogma and doctrine, and it isn’t everything finally being alright. The something is this child, this Jesus. And when he is present, everything changes.

The Person Changes Everything

I think most of us, if we examine our experience, can think of a person that brings peace, and meaning, and joy, and everything to our existence. I think we can all think of a person who at one time or another, as a child, as a teenager, as an adult, in our best days or in days of tragedy and sorrow and suffering—we can think of a person in whose presence, in that relationship, everything changed for the better.

(a) The easiest example is young love: falling in love when you’re very young and every time you see that person you fall into a frenzy, your entire life is consumed by them. That relationship gives meaning to your life and existence, it changes your life for the better, and life gets better every time you are around them. (b) Another one is a young child’s relationship to their mother. You get lost in the store as a kid; you turn around and mom is gone, and the world seems to end. But you find her, run into her arms, and everything makes sense again, life makes sense, everything changes for the better. (c) It’s that experience of coming home from work. And even though you may have just had the worst day at work ever, you give your husband or your wife a hug, hold them—and everything changes. For that brief moment, everything changes. (d) It’s returning from deployment. (e) It’s feeling alone in a crowd, but then you see a familiar face. (f) It’s being the new kid in school, but then you make a new friend.

And what is it? What is it about those experiences? It’s a mysterious presence. A look, their eyes. It’s a human face. It’s the presence of one who loves you. One who (at least in that moment) doesn’t need anything from you, but only delights in you, only wants to receive you and who only wants your love. 

And for that brief moment, even for the briefest moment—we are given rest. We didn’t produce it, we didn’t manufacture it—we are given rest. And without even trying, “our spirit blossoms with generosity when it comes in contact with [this person, with this relationship], and by means of that face our spirit gives itself, gushing forth, to others.…That face is a human echo of Him” (Luigi Giussani in a letter to his sister).

The answer we’re looking for isn’t something big and fancy—it’s Him, it’s His presence.

There Is Only Now

The only moment we have is the present. And so only His presence here and now can respond to this something we’re looking for. He must be present. And sure, we may not see His face, we may not see His literal face. Like John the Baptist in his own mother’s womb, we may not see Him—but we can still encounter Him, be in His presence. By Faith, we rejoice in His presence, even now. Because just by knowing He is here, everything changes.

The great mystery of Christmas that we will celebrate this week is that in the most unlikely of ways, in the most inexplicable of ways, it is the arrival of this child that changes everything. And when He is present—and He is still present—everything can continue to change. There is no magic formula, there are no magic prayers, no magic rules. It’s His presence. The one who loves you, the one who wants nothing but your love, the one—the someone—you’ve been waiting for, is here…present among us.

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