Thursday, 3rd Week of Advent
Employees’ Christmas Mass and Party
Basilica of the Assumption
Dec. 19, 2019
This annual Mass, so close to Christmas, provides us all with an opportunity to come together in prayer, as co-workers and colleagues, in giving thanks to the Lord for the blessings and gifts he showers upon us in the course of our daily work – not only in our successes but also in our challenges. It is also a way for me to express my gratitude for your daily work – by offering the most perfect acts of thanksgiving that exists anywhere, namely, the Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Our daily work and ministry takes a variety of forms and styles. If I were to mention them, we’d be here for the rest of the afternoon! Suffice it to say that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the amazing array of ministries and service that you represent works together to build up the Body of Christ here in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. This is something for which I am grateful, not just today, but every day.
Advent Part 2
You might know that Advent is divided into two parts. In the first part of Advent, lasting just beyond the 3rd Sunday of Advent, we re-live the longing of the Chosen People for a Messiah, a Savior. They kept this hope alive for century upon century, amid the slavery of Egypt, wandering in the desert, exile, attacks by enemies, and domination by foreign powers, just to name a few of their challenges. In the liturgy, we mysteriously enter into their centuries-long Advent so as to increase the longing in our hearts for the coming of Christ – Christ who comes to us daily, especially in Word and Sacrament, Christ who knocks at the door of our heart in prayer, Christ who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
In the second part of Advent, our attention shifts somewhat. We begin to focus more specifically on preparing our minds and hearts to celebrate worthily the birth of the Savior, the Solemnity of Christmas which, as we all know only too well, is only a matter of days away. To help us prepare our hearts for the liturgy of Christ, the Advent liturgy in these days presents to us the experiences of those who were directly connected with the birth of Jesus … For example, yesterday the Gospel recounted how an angel appeared to St. Joseph in a dream instructing him not to fear taking Mary as his wife, even though she was found to be with Child. The Angel told Joseph that the Child was conceived of the Holy Spirit and was destined to be the long-awaited Messiah. Scripture tells us that when Joseph awoke he obeyed the Angel’s directive.
Today, we encounter the high priest Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth and the father of John the Baptist. As he was ministering in the temple, the Angel Gabriel appeared to him to announce that his wife, Elizabeth, well beyond her child-bearing years, would conceive and give birth to a son who would be a prophet, indeed, the prophet, announcing the coming of the Messiah into the world. As good and faithful as he was, Zechariah doubted the Angel’s message, protesting that both he and his wife were well beyond the age of childbearing. Because of his resistance, his doubt, Zechariah lost his powers of speech and by implication also his powers of hearing. He was plunged, if only temporarily, into a world of silence.
Zechariah’s “Advent” and Ours
If we step back for a moment, we might wonder if it were fair that Zechariah would lose his powers of speech and hearing simply because he entered a very reasonable doubt, a healthy skepticism. What are we to make of what befell Zechariah? And what does the silence of Zechariah mean for you and me?
We might regard the silence imposed on Zechariah merely as a punishment, but I would suggest instead that this period of time in which he said nothing and heard no earthly sounds – I would suggest that this period of time was “Zechariah’s Advent”. Into the silence, God and God alone spoke to Zechariah. There in the depths of his heart reverberated the Word of God to which Zechariah had been so attentive throughout his life. With nothing to distract him, he mulled over the wondrous deeds that God in his mercy had done for his people through the centuries. He mulled over in his mind and heart how, time and time again, God intervened in the birth of those he had chosen for some special mission, such as Sampson – about whom we read in today’ first reading from Judges.
Zechariah’s silence was broken only after his son was born and Zechariah, in obedience to the Angel, signaled that he would be named “John”. With that his ears were opened and his tongue was loosened and he sang a beautiful canticle of praise immortalized in the Church’s daily worship.
What, then, is the meaning of Zechariah’s intense and silent Advent for us? Doesn’t this episode in the Gospel urge you and me, in the final and very busy days just prior to the celebration of Christmas? To carve out some times for silent prayer, some time to be alone with the Lord, periods of time when we shut down every device and every source of noise – and are alone with the Lord in prayer, listening to the Lord in the silence of our hearts, remembering his mercies and blessings in our lives, seeking to welcome him into our hearts more completely and more intently? Then, when Christmas dawns, our ears will be opened to the Good News and our tongues loosened to proclaim the tidings of good news announced by the Angels on that first Christmas night – “Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of goodwill.”
May you have the merriest and holiest of Christmases and may God bless us and keep us always in his love!