Homily for the fourth Sunday of Advent - Year B - Lk. 1:26-38
Father Daniel Meynen
"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, 'Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!' But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.
"And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.' And Mary said to the angel, 'How shall this be, since I have no husband?' And the angel said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.' And Mary said, 'Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.' And the angel departed from her."
"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, 'Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!' But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be."
This is a well-known gospel story: the one that tells of the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God! The relation between the Mystery of the Incarnation and that of the Birth of the Son of God is clear: these are the beginning and the end of the physical presence of the Child Jesus in the womb of his Mother Mary. This is the entire time of the gestation of the fetus of the Child God, which elapsed over a period of nine months, from March 25 to December 25. Now, all of this plunges us into an altogether mysterious symbolism...
Around March 21, each year, is the time of the spring equinox: the length of the night is equal to the length of the day, and there is not a minute more of either daylight or darkness than there is of the other. But, from March 25 onward, the length of the day surpasses that of the night. Symbolically, this means that the Light of Truth, who is the Word of Life, inaugurates his triumph over the darkness of Evil and Temptation. This triumph will last until the summer solstice, which occurs around June 21.
At that very moment, that is, at the spring equinox, Elizabeth, Mary's cousin, is in her sixth month of pregnancy: "Your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren." (Lk. 1:36) Saint Luke had already begun his account by saying: "In the sixth month..." (Lk. 1:26) Apparently, there is something important here. Indeed, the child that Mary's cousin will soon bring into the world is none other than John the Baptist, the Precursor of Christ, he who is to bear witness to the Light that comes into the world!
Three months after the Incarnation of the Word, John the Baptist is born, on June 24. Now, June 24 is the first day that, after having constantly increased up until June 21, the length of the day diminishes: on June 24, we lose a minute of daylight, in exchange for an additional minute of darkness. And this phenomenon will continue imperturbably until December 21... One must wait until exactly December 25, that is, Christmas day, for the length of the day to begin growing again, and for the length of the night to decrease by the same amount.
It would seem that, symbolically, the birth of John the Baptist makes no sense: why does he who is to bear witness to the Light come into the world at the very moment when the light of day begins to decrease? The only possible answer is to say that John the Baptist comes into the world to complete, through the grace of God, He who is to enlighten the world: Christ. John the Baptist is like another Christ: John the Baptist holds the place of Christ when the latter is hidden or absent!
John the Baptist had said: "He must increase, but I must decrease." (Jn. 3:30) If John the Baptist holds the place of Christ, it is because he is a figure of the Church who, while Christ is in Heaven and hidden from our eyes as he was while in the womb of Mary, also holds the place of Christ in order to proclaim to the entire world the Good News of Salvation. While awaiting the Return of Christ at the end of time, the Church, like John the Baptist, is called to decrease so that Christ might increase: the Church, who, in Christ, is the light of the world (cf. Mt. 5:14), effaces herself before him in order to hold, in the eyes of the world, the place of Christ!
From the time of John the Baptist's birth, Christ spiritually grows in him: the witness of the Light of the world already fulfills his mission while the Child God is still in the womb of his Mother! But as there are not two Christs, but only one, it is instead John the Baptist who is in Christ, and thus in Mary, in order to spiritually grow through his witness to the Light of the world. So if the Church, like John the Baptist, bears witness to the Light of the world, it is in Mary, the Mother of Jesus, that the Church spiritually grows in Christ, until the end of time!
So if there is a symbolism that links the two events of the Incarnation and of the Nativity, it is that of the spiritual life of the Church in Christ, through Mary, with Mary, and in Mary. Thus the feast of Christmas will soon celebrate the summit and the crowning of this spiritual life: soon Christ will come, soon Christ will return, in order to give to each of the elect of God the crown of Glory, that Glory which is his own and which he has from his Father! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!
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