Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle C.
19th December, 2021
Sunday Church at Home
during the Coronavirus Pandemic
The Power of God Manifests Itself in the
Meeting of Elizabeth and Mary.
The leader makes the sign of the cross, saying:
Leader: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
All reply: Amen
Leader: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
All reply: Blessed be God for ever
Today we light the last of our four Advent candles, indicating that the time of waiting, reflection and preparation is almost over. As the year comes to an end, we reflect not just on the past and the present, but on the new beginning we can have in Christ. A life full of hope, faith, joy and peace.
We now light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath.
The first candle is the candle of hope;
the second is the candle of faith;
the third candle is the candle of joy;
the fourth candle is the candle of peace.
Today as we light the last candle, we open our hearts in expectation of the arrival of the Prince of Peace.
The four candles of the Advent Wreath are lit.
Leader: Let us Pray
Heavenly Father, as we light the last Advent candle,
give light to our eyes and peace to our hearts.
May our Lord find us watching and waiting in joy when He comes.
Families with a Jesse Tree can use the following, or the text from the Family Advent book available at the Bryanston Catholic Church.
The symbols on the Jesse Tree remind us of the people and events of salvation history as we look forward to the coming of the Saviour.
- Nehemiah the Builder: When the Jewish people returned from exile in Babylon, Nehemiah organised the rebuilding of Jerusalem and of the temple, and helped to restore the regular worship for the whole community. Once again, the temple became the centre of the people’s lives. In this way too our church today is the centre of our parish community, more than just a building. The church community gives us an identity that reflects Jesus. (pause)
- Angels: Angels are special messengers from God, sent to bring very important news in this case to Mary. Lord, may we too hear your message of hope, during this coming Christmas season, may we too then rejoice with the angels and bring this hope, along with the angels to other who need to hear your message. (pause)
- The Virgin Mary: The lily represents Mary. Mary, who submitted to the Lord’s will, is the mother of our Lord. We give her special honour for her obedience to God and example of motherhood. Through the ages, Mary continues to inspire and influence all who love her. Let us honour Mary and all our mothers, wives, aunts and sisters and all those who have shown us Mary’s love and comfort. (pause)
- Carpenters Tools: Joseph was a craftsman. God entrusted the care of Mary to Joseph. Joseph was the faithful and devoted protector of Mary and the baby Jesus. Let us honour our own fathers, husbands, uncles, brothers who labour to provide for their children. (pause)
- John the Baptizer: John was the child of promise. John was the ‘voice crying out in the wilderness’ that the prophet Isaiah foretold. John called the people to be baptised and to repentance to be ready for the Messiah. So too Lord, let us hear this message and prepare our hearts for the Birth of Christ. (pause)
The fourth verse of the Advent Wreath Hymn can be sung.
(Tune: Away in a Manger)
A candle is burning, a candle of Love;
A candle to point us to heaven above.
A baby for Christmas, a wonderful birth;
For Jesus is bringing God’s Love to our earth.
We continue with the Liturgy of the Word.
LITURGY OF THE WORD
First Reading: Micah 5:2-5a
Introduction to the reading: The prophet Micah, writing some 700 years before Christ, attacked the social injustices of Israel. He looked ahead to a day when the tiny city of Bethlehem, where David had been born, would bring forth a new shepherd – a good shepherd – who would unify the people and bring peace.
A reading from the Book of the Prophet Micah.
Thus says the Lord:
You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labour pains has brought forth;
then the rest of his brethren shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength
of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now, he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
And this shall be peace.
The word of the Lord.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 80:2ac & 3b.15-16a.18-19 (R. 4)
Let us now pray the Responsorial Psalm:
R/. O God, bring us back;
let your face shine on us, and we shall be saved.
O shepherd of Israel, hear us,
enthroned on the cherubim, shine forth
Rouse up your might and come to save us.
God of hosts, turn again, we implore;
look down from heaven and see.
Visit this vine and protect it,
the vine your right hand has planted,
May your hand be on the man at your right hand,
the son of man you have confirmed as your own.
And we shall never forsake you again;
give us life that we may call upon your name.
R/. O God, bring us back;
let your face shine on us, and we shall be saved.
Second Reading: Hebrews 10:5-10
Introduction to the reading: The Letter to the Hebrews constantly looks to the Old Testament and shows how Jesus surpassed its laws and sacrifices. In Old Testament times, the people offered animal sacrifices over and over in atonement for their sins. But this could not compare to the God-made-flesh who gave his life once for the sins of all.
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews.
Brothers and sisters:
When Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,’
as it is written of me in the roll of the book.”
When he said above,
“You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices
and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings”
(these are offered according to the law),
then he added,
“Behold, I have come to do your will.”
He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.
And by that will we have been sanctified
through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ
once for all.
The word of the Lord.
Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord:
let it be to me according to your word.
Gospel: Luke 1:39-45
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke.
In those days
Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country,
to a city of Judah,
and she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary,
the child leapt in her womb;
and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
and she exclaimed with a loud cry,
“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
And why is this granted me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears,
the child in my womb leapt for joy.
And blessed is she who believed
that there would be a fulfilment
of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
The Gospel of the Lord
Reflection on the Readings
The leader reads the text prepared by the priest and leads the sharing.
Mother Teresa once said: “We don’t have to go to Calcutta to help the poor; rather, we must help them right in front of us.”
A man called Bradley James applied this lesson when he encountered a homeless beggar on the streets of San Francisco. Bradley placed some money in his metal cup, then reached out and shook the man’s hand. The recipient gave him a big smile, and the two exchanged names and small talk. Bradley recalls: “Then he pulled me a little closer and said, ‘Thanks for the money, but what I really needed was a handshake’”
Indeed, what was remarkable in this incident was not the donation of money, but the gift of human dignity and the love of Christ that Bradley James brought to the beggar through the handshake and his fraternal presence. In effect, Bradley replicated in this experience the joyful mystery of the Visitation described in today’s Gospel.
The Gospel is unusual because it features two women. Usually, men have centre stage in most of Scripture. Women were considered less and had very minor roles in the world of religion, commerce and society. Even today, women are excluded from the decision making structures of the Church.
Today we want to learn from the experience of Elizabeth and Mary.
The two women trusted in the words God had spoken to them. They had faith, despite the odds against them. Elizabeth was well past the time of childbearing and Mary was young, betrothed to Joseph, but not yet married. The two were given a momentous and vital calling which the course of history.
Elizabeth is the barren woman who is made fruitful by God and will give birth to John the Baptizer. Barrenness was thought by men to be a woman’s fault, or even a punishment for sin. But Elizabeth and her husband Zachariah are considered to be righteous people. Still, she cannot bear a child and she refers to her condition as “my disgrace among men” (1:25). God intervenes, as God often does in the Scriptures to raise up the lowly – by taking away Elizabeth’s so-called disgrace.
The angel announced to Mary, “You have found favour with God. You shall bear a son…” (1:31). After Mary hears that Elizabeth is pregnant, she sets out “in haste into the hill country” (1:39) to her cousin.
I think Mary went to Elizabeth because she needed the wisdom and strength of the older woman. How wonderfully reassuring Elizabeth’s salutation must have been to Mary when she said: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
The gospel reading ends with, “Blessed are you, who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord, would be fulfilled.”
Mary’s “blessedness,” or “happiness,” is that she believed and trusted God’s promises would come true. That what Advent asks of us – to trust, to believe and to wait patiently in the hope that what God has promised will be fulfilled. God has promised us new life and Christmas will affirm that promise in the concrete reality of Jesus’ birth. The Divine became took on humanity and God has taken a decisive step in Jesus to bring about a kingdom of peace and love. It will happen – God has promised, and Jesus will give us his Spirit to help us wait and also act to bring the kingdom about.
To wait patiently for the promises to be fulfilled doesn’t mean we do nothing in the meanwhile. We must not sit back and say, “God, you take care of the problems of the world while we hide away and do nothing.” When the clouds of unrest and turmoil in the world are stirred up it is tempting to do that, avoid the stress and become isolated, keeping others at a distance. In this time of the pandemic, we keep social distancing – but we still are called to connect with each other on a deeper level. The Scriptures today don’t talk of withdrawal from the world’s problems; they call us to an active participation.
Micah was a prophet in the eighth century BCE when Israel was prosperous. But the country’s kings were corrupt and religious practices were faulty. Micah anticipated that the failure of the kings and religious leaders would lead to Jerusalem’s destruction. Though there were no present signs to support him, Micah had hope that God would raise up an ideal king, not from the seat of power, but from a small village, Bethlehem.
Micah does not see how God will fulfil his hope, still the prophet speaks God’s promise that a ruler for Israel will come from Bethlehem.
In a few days time we will sing the carol, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.” The phrase, “The hopes and fears of all the years / Are met in thee tonight,” is linked to Micah’s expression of hope in God.
“So God imparts to human hearts / The blessings of His heaven.” This hope is fulfilled in the birth of the child in Bethlehem.
Mary and Elizabeth’s meeting is a beautiful moment in Scripture. There are two encounters in this meeting. There is their human encounter. And then there is the profound and awesome meeting with God. That’s what happens when, like Elizabeth and Mary, we respond to need in another person, or group of people, out of love, care, welcome and appreciation.
In these last few days of Advent, I pray that the example and exchange between Mary and Elizabeth stir us to encounter someone who needs a visit, our presence, help and time right now.
In other words, to whom can we be a blessing and, in turn, they a blessing to us?
We will receive Christ’s presence, his “visit” to us in Word and sacrament today. That’s the presence we take with us as we leave and let Christ bless others through us.
From the Book of the Prophet Micah:
“He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock…
for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth;
he shall be peace.”
Through the prophet Micah God’s promise has come true in Jesus, “He shall be peace.” Our faith in Jesus is expressed by our determination to act as “ambassadors” of the peace the Promised One has brought.
So we ask ourselves:
- What touched me in the Word of God?
- How can I be an “ambassador of peace” in Jesus’ name?
- Where and to whom do I need to speak words of forgiveness;
- to be an agent of reconciliation between hostile parties;
- to speak calmly while others are shouting;
- to act justly when the voiceless are being taken advantage of?
Prayer of the Faithful
Leader: As Christmas approaches, let us pray that the joy of this festival may reach out and spread to everyone.
We pray for the Church: that our hearts may leap for joy as we recognize God-with-us in the people and events of our lives.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for for all who live in Bethlehem and the hill country of Judah; for Christians, Jews, and Muslims: that God’s Spirit will open new pathways of peace and bring forth new hope for all who live in fear
LORD HEAR US
We pray for all believers: that we, like Mary, may believe that God will do great things in and through our ordinariness.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for new parents and expectant parents: that God will bless their children with health and help them to care for and nurture their children both physically and spiritually.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for wisdom and healing during the pandemic: that all affected by the covid-19 virus and its variants may look forward with hope and joy to the birth of the Christ child.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for members of our families and friends who have died and those whose anniversaries occur about this time.
LORD HEAR US
We pray for Ari Pranger who died during the week.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace. Amen.
Leader: Let us pray our Advent Prayer:
Father in heaven,
our hearts desire the warmth of your love
and our minds are searching for the light of your Word.
Increase our longing for Christ our Saviour
and give us the strength to grow in love,
that the dawn of his coming
may find us rejoicing in his presence
and welcoming the light of his truth.
Your eternal Word took flesh on our earth
when the Virgin Mary placed her life
at the service of your plan.
Lift our minds in watchful hope
to hear the voice which announces his glory
and open our minds to receive the Spirit
who prepares us for his coming.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
We can unite ourselves to the Eucharist through making a spiritual Communion.
By making an Act of Spiritual Communion, we express our faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and ask him to unite himself with us.
My Jesus, I believe you are really here in the Blessed Sacrament.
I love you more than anything in the world, and I hunger to receive you.
But since I cannot receive Communion at this moment, feed my soul spiritually. I unite myself to you now as I do when I receive you. Amen.
Leader: Let us pray to the Father in the words Jesus our Saviour gave us:
All say: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Leader: Who are we, Lord God,
that you should come to us?
Yet you have visited your people
and redeemed us in your Son.
As we prepare to celebrate his birth,
make our hearts leap for joy at the sound of your Word,
and move us by your Spirit to bless your wonderful works.
We ask this through him whose coming is certain,
whose day draws near: your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
Leader: May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.