Readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent Cycle C
Over the next week or so a similar scene will be played out in the homes of people celebrating Christmas with the exchange of gifts. Wherever gifts are given between family members usually there is the moment when the beautiful wrapping is torn away to be followed by a squeal of delight. The noise is a sign of delight, of surprise! Maybe it’s a expensive piece of jewelry. Perhaps the gift is more expensive than expected. Words follow. “You shouldn’t have! I didn’t expect you’d remember! This is wonderful!” Most people like being surprised by those who love them. The unexpected gesture or gift can be a sign revealing how much a person is loved.
Our God is the God of surprises. Our God loves to surprise humanity with his generosity of mercy. Scripture constantly reminds us our God is a God who does the unexpected on a regular basis.
For example, there’s the pregnancy of Mary. She’s a virgin. Unless you do what men and women have always done in order to have a baby, you don’t. You can’t get pregnant. Yet, the virgin finds herself pregnant after it is revealed to her God needs her to cooperate in His plan and she agrees to let her body be used as the vessel of incarnation, the becoming flesh of God. You want to talk about surprises and a God who delights in giving gifts to the human race he loves? No one in Mary’s village would have suspected that a girl would be pregnant with out another man being involved. Mary was probably the most surprised.
And what about Elizabeth who we know was too old to have a baby. Yet, when Mary shows up to visit her Elizabeth is six months pregnant, the normal way, but still I’m sure Elizabeth was surprised one day to realize she’d was “with child.”
But this is how God likes to work. God prefers to do the unexpected, something out of the ordinary. Our God is the God of surprises.
As people of faith, as disciples of Jesus who reveals the God of the unexpected, we must be prepared for God to surprise us with the gift of his love, too. To follow Jesus is to expect to be surprised by God. Jesus revealed the God who doesn’t just do the same old, same old. After all, no one expected that Jesus, after being killed on the cross, would show up a few days later, alive, opening up the possibility of eternal life for the human race. We should expect God to surprise us, too!
But too often we people of faith forget God likes surprises and so go through our days thinking nothing can or will change. There will always be wars. There’s a good chance people will disappoint me or hurt me. I’ll get sick. The sun will come up, I’ll go to work, come home, have a little time with the family and do it all over, again, tomorrow. This attitude is a temptation of the evil one to forget the surprises of love God has in mind for us.
We must remember that God wants to visit his people with the gift of his love and signs of his mercy. We must be willing to let go of our low expectations of the routin-ness of life and pay attention when God visits us so that we can marvel at God’s love, like when Mary, pregnant with the Lord visits his people in the person of Elizabeth and the yet un-born John the Baptist.
God surprises us with his love in many ways if we would be pay attention to his advent in our everyday life. The source of love reveals Himself in the hug and voice of a child in our family who spontaneously expresses her love for her mom out of the blue. “Mom, I love you!” We can be surprised by God’s mercy when a spouse says I’m sorry before the offended partner asks for an apology. The lonely senior citizen, surprised by a neighbor who not only brings dinner but eats with the recipient of the meal; the call out of the blue from a friend who just wants to say you’re thought of. Little surprises, little visitations by the Lord of Mercy to shake us out of our routine of low expectations.
As people of faith we shouldn’t be surprised that God likes to show up at unexpected times with a gift of his love. We have to unwrap the bearer of the gift with eyes of faith that recognize in the guise of someone we know is actually the gift of the love of God.
The proper response when visited by Jesus’ mercy is to marvel we’ve been deemed worthy to receive the visit and to Thank God. What were the word’s out of Elizabeth’s mouth when Mary, pregnant with Jesus appeared at her door? “Who am I to be so blessed?” What did John the Baptist do? He started kicking up a storm in the belly of Elizabeth out of joy.
When we receive a surprise visit from Jesus, reminding us of how loved we are by God, we, too, need to express joy. We need to give thanks and marvel at his love. Maybe a whispered “Thank you God” when our children unexpectantly show their love. A prayer of gratitude lifted up in this Mass is good. Or, expressing charity in corporal acts of mercy towards others is appropriate.
The proper response when visited by Jesus’ mercy is marvel and thanks.
Since the church is a people who expect surprises to come forth from the mercy of God we need to look to Mary to be our model. Mary, experiencing the surprise of God’s blessing in her pregnancy goes to share Good News with another person. She takes a chance making the journey to Elizabeth. It was a risky trip. So should the church take risks to bring hope of surprising Good News into the world. Love triumphs, not hate, not violence. Life is precious and not to be wasted in killing or hoarding the resources of our planet for a select few. The church processes the Good News of Jesus, the powerless God, crucified by hate yet living for ever. By our works of charity, by corporal works and spiritual works of mercy, we become the body in which the surprising God will love the world now and until He comes, again, at the end of time.
In these days of Advent and the coming feast of Christmas we celebrate that God, wrapped up in the beauty of human flesh is inviting us to unwrap the human potential to change, to visit the world with peace and justice. God has surprised us with his love in the incarnation of Jesus. Surely we should make a joyful noise to the Lord in liturgy and in our witness to his kingdom among us, for he has visited his people hope!