This year, the fourth Sunday of Advent falls on December 24th. After the testimony of John the Baptist (Third Sunday of Advent), the liturgy of the Word of this fourth Sunday offers us the testimony of Mary, Virgin Mother of God, who has devoutly kept in her heart the great things that the Lord had done to her.
Let us make our eyes full of the hope that nourished the patient waiting of John the Baptist and Mary’s maternal waiting so to sing with her the hymn of praise for God who “helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, as he had promised to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever “(Lk 1: 45-55).
On the eve of Christmas, the liturgy leads us to Nazareth where the first “Hail Mary” was said and the Word became flesh, and offers us the Gospel of the Annunciation. Let us contemplate this evangelical fact – addressed to us by St. Luke, who probably heard it told by Mary herself- and let’s make ours the “yes”, the “fiat” (in Latin), the “Amen” (in Hebrew) of this young woman. In this way, we could also make true the words of the Angel Gabriel: “Do not be afraid … you will conceive … you will give birth to the Son of God and you will name him Jesus”.
The event of the Annunciation clearly tells us that Mary is the immediate, temporal as well as biological and affective, theological and biblical channel through which welcome Jesus this Christmas and forever. In fact, “does it profit us that Christ was once born of Mary in Bethlehem, if he is not born also by faith in our soul?” (Origen). Therefore, “moved by the goodness of God who in Christ manifests his love for man” (Pope Francis) we welcome the Savior.
A great amazement full of emotion takes possession of us if we contemplate the miracle of God, who takes on a human body by dwelling in a mother’s womb, and the miracle that “a womb of flesh was able to bring fire, and the flame lived in the delicate body without burning it “(Saint Ephraim, the Syrian) but burned our sins.
2) Christmas and the Nativity.
Now, from Nazareth, which means “garden” and where the flower of Christ was born, let’s go to Bethlehem, which means “house of bread” and will host the One who will become for us the Bread of life.
In Bethlehem was born the One who, in the sign of the broken bread, would have left the memorial of his Passover. The adoration of the Child Jesus in this Holy Night continues in the Eucharistic adoration. We adore the Lord, made flesh to save our flesh, made living Bread to give life to every human being. We recognize, as our only God, this fragile Child who lies helplessly in the manger. “At the fullness of time, you became man among men to unite the end to the beginning, that is, man to God” (cf. St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., IV, 20, 4). In the Son of the Virgin, “wrapped in swaddling clothes” and laid “in a manger” (Lk 2:12), we recognize and adore “the Bread descended from heaven” (Jn 6, 41.51), the Redeemer came to earth to give life to the world.
Today, we are not only given to listen but also to see the Word of God, as long as we go “to Bethlehem and look at this Word, that the Lord has done and showed us”. (Blessed Guerric d’Igny)
Let us therefore go to the grotto of Bethlehem and contemplate this unthinkable miracle, which for many is still unbelievable: “God, who measures the sky with the width of his hand, lies in a manger as large as a hand’s width; He, who contains the sea in the hollow of his hand, experienced his birth in a cave. The sky is full of his glory and the manger is full of his splendor (Saint Ephraim the Syrian, Hymn for the Birth of Christ, 1).
If we read carefully the Gospel of the Nativity, as St. Luke proposes it, we can recreate the scene of the nativity in the mind and in the heart. Imagine a cave also used as a stable, a poor occasional housing , chosen by the two pilgrims, Mary and Joseph, to host the birth of the One who is the center of the world and humanity: a mature event that fulfills the times. Let us allow our eyes to be drawn by the night, the cold, poverty, and loneliness and then, suddenly, by the opening of the sky and the extraordinary announcement of the angels, and by the arrival of the shepherds. With our imagination we can reconstruct the details and transform the scene into a pastoral familiar landscape for an enchanting story. We all become children, and we enjoy an enchanted moment that makes us dream. This is beautiful but it is simplistic, because Christ is born in a cave. When the shepherds arrived there, what did they see?
A child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger as the Angels had announced them. It is the wonder of Christmas: to be proclaimed Lord, the Prince of Peace, Messiah and Savior is a child who has, as a throne, a manger and, as a royal palace, a cave. The total simplicity of the first nativity is amazing. The most marvelous detail is the absence of any wonderful touch in the cave. The shepherds are wrapped up and frightened by the glory of God, but the sign they receive from the Angels is simple: “You will find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger”. Actually, when they come to Bethlehem they see nothing but “a child lying in the manger”. Let’s ask to see the miracle of Christmas in the “banality” of everyday life and seriously predict what an anonymous wrote centuries ago: “Our body is the living Nativity in places where we are called to live and work; our legs, like those of the animals that warmed Jesus on the night of His Christmas; our womb, like that of Mary who welcomed and raised Jesus; our arms like those of Joseph who cradled, lifted, embraced Jesus and worked for Him; our voice, like that of the angels to praise the Word made flesh; our eyes, like the ones of all those who saw him in the manger at night; our ears, like those of the shepherds who listened -astounded- to the angelic song coming from the sky; our intelligence, like that of the Three Wise Men who followed the star to the “house” of Jesus, the cave; our heart as the manger that welcomed the Eternal who became small and poor like one of us “.
So let’s go to the manger to become more and more a living Nativity that reveals Man and God. The man who we are not yet but who we are called to be, and the God who cannot manifest himself but in a humble but transparent humanity that lets go through itself this Love that is only Love.
If we go to the nativity, it is because Christmas is the center of the universal history. It is in relation to Christmas that all the centuries are counted.
If we go to the nativity, it is because in the birth of Christ there is our birth, our dignity, our greatness and our freedom.
If we go to the nativity, it is because there God reveals himself no longer as a master who dominates us and claims rights over us, but as a sweet Love, who wants to hide in us and does not stop waiting for us because “the only thing” that He can always do is to love us.
The only logical answer to this Love is to love Him. The Christians are those who believed and believe in this Love born among us and for us. The Christians are called by Love to love. This is the vocation that Christmas offers and every year renews.
This vocation to Love is lived in a special way by the consecrated Virgins. If the Christian life is a journey and a progressive assimilation to the life of the Lord Jesus, so it is, in a special way, the life of these women who joyfully consecrated themselves to Christ with loving trust and total abandonment. The consecrated virgins testify to us that Christ is a gift to which we respond by giving ourselves and making of our heart the manger from where He opens his arms to the world. Christmas is not an emotion, but a vocation to always be chastely with him. The Son of God who incarnates himself, becomes one of us and calls us to believe with our heart, to proclaim with our lips (see Rom 10: 9-10) and to confirm with the works that God’s covenant is in our flesh consecrated by the virginal offering. In this way, men, seeing our good works, give glory to our Father who is in heaven (see Mt 5:16) in Jesus Christ our Lord (see Liturgy). Being consecrated virgins means being a sign of God’s fidelity and a place where the donated life of Christ generates life here on earth and for eternity.
The Virgins consecrated in the world, and we with them, are called to be the cradle of the true Adam where the whole world is born in divine communion. “I therefore expect that the ‘spirituality of communion’, indicated by St. John Paul II, becomes reality and that you are at the forefront in grasping the ‘great challenge facing us’ in this new millennium: making the Church the home and school of communion “(Pope Francis, Letter on the occasion of the Year of Consecrated Life, November 2014).
By:Mons. Francesco Follo