Love … The Fourth Sunday of Advent is Love Sunday. Love comes in many forms: romantic love, love of a friend, love of a parent for their child. Then there’s the love God has for us. That love is beyond words, and though I can’t find the words to describe it, His actions, and Mary’s too, show us exactly how big that love is.
All through Advent we are told of the signs that the Israelites were to be looking for in their preparations for the coming of the Messiah. This week, the Prophet Micah gave some real specifics. He said in Micah 5:1-4 that the smallest town in Judea, Bethlehem, would be where the “Ruler of Israel” will come from. Micah said that:
The Lord will let his people be defeated until the woman gives birth to her child, the promised king. Then the rest of his brothers will come back to join the people of Israel. He will begin to rule Israel in the power of the Lord. Like a shepherd, he will lead his people in the wonderful name of the Lord his God. And they will live in safety because then his greatness will be known all over the world. (vv 3-4)
And from Bethlehem in Judea He came, bringing all God’s children back to Him.
Think of your family. If it’s anything like mine, your mother was probably the one who was the main “teacher” of faith. She was probably the first to read you stories as a child from your children’s Bible. Mary was no different a mother. While she was uneducated and poor, Jews were told the stories of their faith. Women, though not allowed in the temple, were the main early educators of their children, as the men were out supporting them. Mary knew the prophecies. She knew the signs and she knew that when the Messiah came he would be sent to a horrible end. The prophets were clear on Christ’s birth and His death.
Mary also knew the punishment for being an unmarried, pregnant woman. In most cases it was an awful death by stoning. When the Angel Gabriel came to her and told her that God chose her to bear His Son, who would be the Messiah, she knew what that meant. She knew it could mean a painful and horrible death for herself or, more importantly later, for her Son. She knew, she was terrified, but she said yes. She knew that God’s love would protect her, and that her pain later as a mother losing a son meant that all people would be saved from oppression. She said yes.
The Gospel for this Sunday speaks of love as well. Luke 1:39-45 tells of Mary rushing to her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with her son John (the one who would become the “voice crying out in the desert”). Traveling as a young woman who was also pregnant, in a time and area that was unsafe, Mary loved her cousin and knew she would need her help. So she traveled to her. When she got there, and Elizabeth heard her voice, John, as an unborn child, was so filled with love, he “leapt in her womb” as Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She says “Great blessings are yours because you believed what the Lord said to you! You believed this would happen.”
As we are now finding ourselves in the midst of of giving, eating scrumptious food, and visiting relatives, we must remember that this is a season of love. Remember to show love to everyone: not just friends and family, that’s easy. Show love to those who irk you – the crazy neighbor, the person who stole your parking space at the mall, the jerk who cuts you off on the road. If Jesus loved us so much that He came into the world as a helpless baby, grew up poor and gave His life in the most horrible way possible, I think we can take a few seconds to stop, take a breath and then remember to love. Reach out to those who need it, the less fortunate, the ill, the needy, the heartbroken. Pray, help, love.
Christmas is love.
Image: Virgin Mary, detail of a sculpture of the nativity scene, St Etienne cathedral in Toul; author: Ad Meskens/Wikimedia Commons