December 18, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

The Lord draws near to us, closer than we think

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

“Keep close to one another, draw ever closer to God, and with your bishops and priests spend these years in building a holier, more missionary and humble Church, a Church which loves and worships God by seeking to serve the poor, the lonely, the infirm, and the marginalized.”
—Pope Francis

One of the constant themes of Pope Francis is “closeness.” In practically every communication, whether written in advance or spontaneous, our Holy Father urges us to stay close to God and to one another.

Our contemporary culture tends to view God as absent, remote and disconnected from our world and from us. This is not the Christian view. We are Advent people, women and men who await the Blessed Hope every day. We believe that our God draws near to us, that he is closer to us than we are to ourselves.

We consider permanent separation from God (and from one another) as hell, the worst possible situation for anyone. And we believe that God’s grace, his unconditional love freely given, is what keeps us connected to him and to each other.

God’s closeness to us is seen most perfectly in Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ. The Blessed Virgin bore the Son of God in her womb. His humanity was formed from her flesh, from the priestly line that included Elizabeth and Zechariah, and from the heart of Mary’s faith-filled acceptance of God’s will.

Through Mary, God became one of us. He made it possible for us to come close to him, to identify with him and to recognize him as our brother. This is not an absent, remote or disconnected God. This God is one with us and draws us close to him through the intercession of a simple Hebrew woman chosen by God to be his Son’s mother.

The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent call our attention to Mary. Along with John the Baptist, who even as an unborn child rejoiced in the presence of his Lord, Mary proclaims the closeness of God. She acknowledges his closeness as only a pregnant mother can experience the closeness of her child. She accepts the blessing bestowed on her by Elizabeth without fully comprehending what God has in store for her or for her divine son.

Every morning, the Church invites us to pray the Canticle of Zechariah (commonly called the “Benedictus” because of its opening words, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free.”) I confess this is one of my favorite prayers. I look forward to praying it each day because it praises God for his closeness; it reminds us that he has come to his people and set us free; and because it proclaims that our God is merciful—that he is tender and compassionate in his dealings with us, his wayward and sinful people.

Mary is the Advent messenger who calls us to prepare for her Son’s coming again each Christmas. Her example is simple but profound. St. Luke tells us that when the angel confronted her with the mysterious will of God, Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). God draws close, and Mary’s response is to open her heart and let him enter.

Toward the end of each day, the Church proposes another prayer, the Canticle of Mary or “Magnificat” which begins, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Here Mary sings of the powerful effects of God’s closeness to his people. Because God is one with his people, the poor and the lonely are raised up, the hungry are filled with good things and those who are consumed by their riches and pride are sent away empty-handed.

Every day, the Church prays the message proclaimed by Mary. God is close to us. If we let him into our hearts, he will liberate us, fill our emptiness, forgive our sins and lift us up when we fall into doubt or despair.

Advent celebrates the closeness of God. He is here among us now, especially when we gather in his name and receive him in the holy Eucharist. But he is also coming again—really and truly—in our celebration of Christmas and at the end of time.

Let’s follow Mary’s example and draw close to Jesus. Let’s pray that when our Lord comes again our hearts will be open, and we will have the courage to say, “Yes, Lord. Here I am. I’m ready to do your will.” †

Local site Links: