Desire for God - Fourth Sunday of Advent (B)

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This year it is a strange liturgical fact that this morning we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and this evening we will be celebrating the Nativity of Christ our Lord. This year, the fourth week of Advent will in fact only be a few hours in length.

The Lord is near, but – at this Mass – he has not yet come. We wait. The Lord is very close. We have time for a final personal preparation to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Preparing is important. Indeed preparation for Christmas has dominated our lives in the recent days as we make last-minute preparations. Sometimes now without a little stress and anxiety.

We all naturally look forward to celebrating Christmas. The Christmas Mass we will attend provides a vehicle for acknowledging the joy that we have in the wondrous event of the birth of the Son of God. Now, we await this moment. Waiting helps us appreciate its fulfilment. Expectation grows. Hope builds. Joy is anticipated. Our thoughts are directed to what is to come. Waiting can help prepare the heart to receive.

We will celebrate the Lord’s birth. We will acclaim Him Emmanuel, God is with us. God is not distant and unapproachable; God has reached out to humanity in the most unexpected of ways – God has become one of us.

As God has reached out to us, let us also consider our desire to reach out to God.

For a moment at this Mass, let us sense our desire for God. It is true that we long for God’s presence in our lives. We long for His touch. We long for His love. We long for His love and mercy. We humans know we are incomplete without God. Human life is somehow hollow and lacks a final meaning and value without God.

And we know how much we need God in our lives. We cannot imagine how life would be without him.

I need God in my life. I want God in my life. I do not dare seek to live without knowing that God is with me.

Now it is true that many, sadly, will go into the Christmas celebrations not really thinking of its meaning. There are so many who do not know God. Many are oblivious to His presence. Many live as though He does not exist.

St John said in the prologue to his Gospel that God came among His own and they did not accept Him. This still happens today. Sadly, so many have lost a sense of God, the true God revealed in Jesus Christ. They search in other places, but these will not finally satisfy.

Today, many not only have lost a sense of God, but there are antagonistic voices who deny Christians the simple right to live and give expression to their faith. I fear this will increase in the time ahead. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech is now under serious threat in our society, and Christians are the target.

But we have faith. We know God. We love God. We are aware of His presence in our lives. We long to be in personal communion with Him.

So today, on this final Sunday of Advent, we can reflect on our desire for God in our life. In the consciousness of this desire we do what the liturgy of Advent has been urging us to do: watch and pray.

To watch is to stay alert. We will not allow ourselves to be distracted. And there is much that can distract us. We have all been preoccupied with preparing for Christmas: running around buying presents, frantically getting our Christmas cards off, attending the end of year parties and lunches. We have all been distracted.

Now is a time to watch, to quieten, to focus. Watching means being quiet and attentive. Can we find some time – at this Mass or during the remainder of this day – to find a little time of quiet? To shut the world away and centre our hearts and spirits on what we are about to celebrate. The Lord has visited his people. The Lord has come to save. The Lord is in our midst. The Lord has heard our cries. We need to be focused on the real meaning of what we are about to celebrate.

We need moments of reflection to be aware of these things, to ponder them in our hearts as our Lady did.

This should lead to the second Advent quality: to pray. Quiet reflection should lead us to pray.

Our prayer can be extremely simple. It can use the word that the Church has been using this week in the Gospel acclamations: ‘Come’. ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’: this can be our prayer. ‘Come Lord Jesus. Come into our world. Do not leave us orphans. Come to us and save us. Come into my life afresh this Christmas. Come and abide in my heart. Come. I want you to come. Come. I need you to come.’

If we find some time to watch and pray, then we will be prepared for the Christmas celebration. We will celebrate the fulfilment of our hopes and desires. We will have prepared our hearts in readiness to receive our Saviour.

We are then more than onlookers at the events, but we have personally embraced them. And they will become a special grace for us.

Watch and pray.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, 24 December 2017