A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Advent
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who places in our hearts songs of praise. Amen.
The Lord, the Mighty One, the God of Israel, has done great things. In ages past, the Lord appeared to Abram and Sarai, who were beyond childbearing years. To them, the priest-king of Salem declared:
Blessed be Abram by God Most high,
maker of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High….
After these things, the Lord made a promise to Abram and Sarai: their descendants would outnumber the stars in the night sky, and through this family, God would bless the world. Imperfect though they were, Abraham and Sarah bore children, and their family — small at first — began to grow.
When the heirs of this family found themselves living in slavery in Egypt, a desperate mother sent her child adrift in a drastic ploy to save his life. The Lord kept watch over this child, protected him as he floated among the predators in the Nile, and after he grew into a man with a short temper and a stutter, called Moses forth to lead the people out of slavery, across the sea on dry foot, and into the wilderness where God renewed the promise made to Abraham. As they led the Hebrews into freedom, Moses and his sister Miriam sang out:
Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously!
From this people came a nation led by prophets and judges. Centuries later, the Lord sent word to Hannah, a woman in great distress, and promised that she would be blessed with the birth of a child. In her joy, Hannah sang out:
My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in my God….
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honour.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.
That child would be Samuel, the prophet of the Lord. He would anoint a humble shepherd as the future king of Israel. And to that shepherd-king, to David, the Lord made another promise: that David’s heir would reign forever, saying, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.” On his deathbed, David sang out:
You deliver a humble people,
but your eyes are upon the haughty to bring them down.
Indeed, you are my lamp, O Lord,
the Lord lightens my darkness
….This God — his way is perfect;
the promise of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
Over the centuries, as Israel split between north and south, as Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom, as Babylon took Judah into exile, as the Greeks desolated the Temple, the Lord remained steadfast and continued to redeem the people.
To an elderly couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, living in Roman Judea, the Lord promised a child named John, saying, “He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Upon John’s birth, his father sang out:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
We’ve spent the past two weeks hearing some of John’s preaching in the wilderness as he points us towards repentance and newness of life.
And to Elizabeth’s young relative, a woman betrothed to a humble craftsman, the angel Gabriel from heaven came, saying, “Hail! Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you!” In response to the news that she would bear a child, God-with-us, Mary uttered simply, “Let it be with me as the Lord intends.”
Mary went to visit Elizabeth, as we saw today, and even in the womb, John leapt for joy in the presence of the Christ child. “Blessed are you among women,” Elizabeth proclaimed, “And blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
Today, we find ourselves looking to the culmination of this long family drama, the crescendo of these songs of praise. Tomorrow, we will meet back here and raise our voices with the whole Church across the world to welcome the Incarnate God, our Lord, born in the city of David.
The Lord has done great things; mighty is his name! And through the ages, through the rise and fall of empires, through slavery and exile and captivity, the Lord has remained steadfast even when the people of the covenant have rebelled. Our God has worked wonders through and with society’s lowly: women and children, the elderly and the barren, slaves and shepherds. God has lifted them up and blessed the world through them.
But the story doesn’t end here. Our hope is not just in a child born under miraculous circumstances or in past events but in that child’s resurrection, ascension, and promise to come again in glory. God’s mighty deeds in ages past give us hope for the future. The Lord has done great things, and the Lord will do yet greater things in the future.
In royal David’s city, David’s greater Son came to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah to bless the world through their descendants. Now, we wait for that same Son of David to come again and to permanently establish God’s Kingdom on earth.
On that last day, the Lord our God will usher us into a new age and a restored creation. We will live together with God as the powers and principalities of this world pass away. The lowly will be lifted up as the lofty are brought low, and the hungry will be fed. In this new creation, we will live as God has always intended.
On that day, we will join in the songs of saints and angels:
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom [the Lord] favors!
This final Sunday in Advent, as our eyes turn towards Bethlehem and the birth of our Savior, we see in that royal city not just what has happened but what will happen, and our souls magnify the Lord.