4th Sunday of Advent Year B

I’m convinced that many Christians have the idea of faith completely backwards. I realize that is a big and shocking statement, but bear with me for a second. Maybe this is you or maybe this is someone you know, but at least in my experience, for many faithful Christians religion is just a laborious task where we reach out to God, hoping that we can break through the wall that separates heaven from earth. For allot of people, faith is about punching our way into heaven to somehow convince and appease God so that we get what we need in our lives.

In this view of religion, we practice our faith only out of obligation, because we have no other option. Why do you go to Church on Sunday? Because I have to? Why did you pray? Because nothing else is working. Maybe this us or maybe this is people that we know, but this is completely backwards and with this view of religion it’s not surprising to me that under this burden people eventually just give up.

You and I do not have the power reach into heaven. You and I don’t have the power to make God do anything. The good news is that we don’t have to, we don’t even have to appease God. For you see, the story of the Annunciation which we just heard in today’s gospel shows us very clearly that religion is not about us reaching out to God and somehow pulling Him into our lives. No, the Annunciation, the moment when God came to dwell in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary shows us that it is God who seeks us out first. It is God who decided to come into this world to be with us. We are not left alone in this world to bring God into our lives. No, from the moment of the Annunciation God was “no longer separated from us by the iron curtain of His inaccessible otherworldliness; he crossed the diving line to become one of us.”[1] In other words, it is not we who pull God into our lives, it is God who offers Himself freely to be with us.

Religion is then not something that we fashion but rather something that God fashions for us. For you see, it was God who first loved us and not us who first loved God. Since God is the primary lover, our job is simply to open our hearts to receive that love and then to respond back in love. Friends, this is the interesting thing about love. I can’t stand up here and tell you how to love or stand up here and teach you how to love. The only way you learn how to love is to be loved and that is why the family is so important.

You and I can only love God, because He has first loved us. You and I can only love God because He has first shown to us what it means to love. Our faith then, is nothing more than a response to God who first reaches out to us in love. It is very simple; God loves us and in receiving that love we respond and love Him in return. Hopefully you end up with an endless circuit of love, but it’s God who started, God who propels it, God who draws us in to love of Him.

You see, our response to faith, must be the “yes” of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation. And what was God’s response to her yes? God came to dwell in her. Her yes, brought Jesus into the remote Hebrew village of Nazareth. It is our yes, to God’s love, our presence here that invites us to experience God who will come into our little remote city of Flint Hill right here on this altar in the Eucharist. You and I are invited to be like Mary, to put aside any fear of the unknown any desire for passing pleasures or things and allow God into our hearts. For when we open ourselves up our lives change because that true response to faith always lifts away a burden of obligation and fills our hearts with love and joy.

I think as Americans we get this idea that we have to reach out to God, because that’s who we are. We like the American dream, this belief that you can pick yourself up by your bootstraps and make something of yourself. I believe in the American dream, but it doesn’t work that way in the spiritual work. You and I cannot simply pick ourselves up and throw ourselves into heaven. No, it is God who comes down to us to raise us up to Him. Therefore, when it comes to faith, often times the best thing we can do is nothing … nothing but simply let God be in our presence. Sure, this requires that we do certain things. We have to show up, we have to go to Mass, set time aside for prayer, follow the path that God has traced for us by being faithful to the commandments and the teachings of the Church etc. But the impetus isn’t on us, often times we have to get out of the way.

You see we cannot forget that “prayer is successfully being quiet, listening to God and being able to hear the ineffable moaning of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us and cries out silently.”[2] Did you notice how today’s gospel ended? This great story of the annunciation … Here is this young woman Mary and the angel has just told her that she is going to be the mother of God, her entire life has changed, and the story ends with the angel simply departing. The angel departs and Mary is left alone. But she is not really alone, because the child Jesus is inside of her. She is left along with God.

  My friends, you and I need to become like our Blessed Mother. You and I amidst all of the challenges and all of the uncertainties we face in this life, need to find the time to be like Mary and simply place ourselves in God’s presence. We are just a few short days away from Christmas. Why not give God the gift of your time? Why not carve some time from your busy schedule to give Him your undivided attention, a time when you do nothing, but open yourself up to His presence? I guarantee you, if you make time for Jesus a daily priority all of your other priorities will sort themselves out.

My friends, as we stand just days away from the celebration of Christmas, we cannot help but recall the great lengths that God went to break down the wall that divided heaven and earth. Christmas shows us definitely that God wants to be with us. It is we who oftentimes run away. As we come down to these final days of preparation why not then allow Him to spend time with you. He came into this world to be with us, why then don’t we gift Him that time to transform our lives.

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.  Pg 333.

[2] Robert Cardinal Sarah. The Power of Silence Against the Dictatorship of Noise. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017. Pg 52.

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