Reflection: Fourth Sunday of Advent
By: Sister Deborah Peters | December 24, 2017
When I was in the 2nd grade, the words “Christ is born” with its present tense bothered me; obviously, I thought it should be in the past tense. Now for my reflection.
A person who is reading the book of the prophet Zephaniah for the first time could certainly be excused for being surprised by tonight’s joyful verses conclude his book. Zephaniah’s short book of just 3 chapters includes 55 verses dominated by what Davis Chappell calls the “gloomiest and doomiest of the Old Testament prophets.” In this final chapter, we are given images of a softer mood; God is a pardoning judge; God is a savior, a warrior who gives us victory over our enemies; and God is a tender shepherd. He is the God who will be in our midst. God is creating a calm, God is gathering us. God is not Aristotle’s “The unmoved mover”; in fact, this is a God who sings loudly, rejoicing over his people. Salvation is real. We are being prepared to hear the words in Luke’s gospel, those amazing words “Let it be done to me according to your word,” at which time God will become human and will make in us his home for as Chappell states, “God comes to us in our exile! His presence changes our darkness into light, sorrow into singing, exile into exaltation, and [he] brings us home.”
The integrity of these two readings is remarkable. Zephaniah prepares us for the words of St. Luke, the gospel writer who best tells Mary’s story. The angel visits Mary and tells her that she is chosen to be the mother of a baby who will “be called the son of God.” She believes and it is done. Through her words, “Be it done . . .,“ she became the mother of Jesus and the mother of us all—we are all Jesus’s sisters and brothers and through this relationship, we all become a priestly people.
The concept of being a priestly people is not new to us. Isaiah tells us “But you will be called the priest of the Lord. You will be spoken of as ministers of our God (61.6). In Revelation, we are told “ . . . and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (1:6). From the first letter of Peter, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that you may proclaim the excellences of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.(2:9). Being a priestly people carries with it the glory of having Christ as a brother and the challenge of being a priest. How can this be done? We are not priests. Oh, but I contend we are. We can do what priests can do. Priests can forgive sins—so can we. We can administer forgiveness to anyone who has injured us in thought and word and deed. Priests can administer healing to the sick—so can we. We can be there for those who are ill or dying or dealing with painful experiences or for whom life is being difficult. Priests can bring Christ to live among us. So can we. We can bring the love of Jesus in all our actions to those who need our love. Priests can offer prayers for the world. So can we. And we do. Every day in our chapels we wake the morning and salute the evening. I know that on all sides of me there are Sisters supporting me and caring for me. Across the aisle, I see God’s deeply beloved persons singing God’s praises and the words of all these women go through these windows to Atchison, to all our loved ones, to the world, to the heavens and it is at this point that I know I have one foot in heaven. I not only believe in God’s presence, I believe Alfred Lord Tennyson’s words, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of” (Morte d’Arthur), and we women of faith, we believe it and each day, when like Mary, we say “Thy will be done,” each of us gives Christ to the world, Christ is born. Now I understand the present tense.