19th December, 2021

You, Bethlehem Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah!  Out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel; his origin goes back to the distant past, to the days of old.

 4th Sunday of Advent 2021

A few years ago, I received a very interesting Christmas card with very unusual Christmas wishes, which I will certainly remember for a long time. One of my friends wrote to me very briefly: Do not overlook this Christmas! Do not miss out on this holy time! … and nothing more, he just signed it underneath. Initially, I thought to myself that my friend did not have much time to compose something nicer, more ambitious or deeper. So, I took it as a joke, smiled to myself and asked – Is it even possible to overlook Christmas, the busiest time of the year for every priest? A few days later however, I realized that I really needed this sincere and simple reminder, so that I would not overlook what is the essence of the Bethlehem night, and not waste this unique opportunity to meet Jesus Christ in the mystery of His Nativity.

As we can see this year’s Advent is slowly coming to the end and we are getting into the atmosphere of Christmas more and more. In the first reading, 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Micah pointed Bethlehem as the birthplace of the expected Messiah. You, Bethlehem Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah! Out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel; his origin goes back to the distant past, to the days of old.

The Gospel tells us the story of Elizabeth’s visitation by her relative Mary. It is worth knowing that this encounter – which St. Luke described in his gospel – was not just an ordinary meeting of two women, but it was primarily a meeting of Jesus with John the Baptist, though both were still unborn. Both of them were in the wombs of their mothers. So, we can say it was a meeting at the turn of history, a meeting of the Old and the New Testament. In this Word of God, we can see Mary shortly after the Annunciation by the Archangel Gabriel, hurrying to Elizabeth’s house, to share the wonderful news. As we can imagine the journey to Elizabeth’s house was not easy for her, since Mary had to walk more or less 94 miles through the mountains and valleys, in good and bad weather, which probably took her about three days, and that was certainly neither easy nor safe for someone who was pregnant. But as we could see, her joy and willingness to bring Jesus to Elizabeth was so great, that Mary was not afraid of this dangerous journey. Or perhaps she was afraid – we don’t know this – but her excitement was much stronger than any fear and anxiety. Why? Because from the very beginning, Mary trusted God very much and knew that Jesus would be someone extremely special. She knew that she could not have and then keep the baby Jesus only for herself, even while He was still in her womb. She knew that she must share and bring Him to others. I am sure each of us can learn a very valuable lesson from this passage. I think that we too – just like Mary in today’s Gospel – should be very much aware of the fact that we cannot have Jesus only for ourselves when He comes to us very soon, only in a few days. We cannot keep Him only for ourselves in our homes, in our beautiful Christmas cribs, in the church or anywhere else. We must take Him to others and share the joy of Bethlehem night with our brothers and sisters who yearn for Him and look forward to seeing Him, as Elizabeth did when she went out to greet Mary.

We are going through the last days before Christmas. These days are full of rush, cleaning, shopping, preparing gifts and decorating the Christmas tree. On Friday we will celebrate Christmas Eve. It is hard to believe that soon it will be upon us. For many of us Christmas is the most beautiful day of the year. This is probably one day a year when all families gather together – physically or at least spiritually – even in these difficult times of the pandemic. I think there is no better opportunity to express our love to everyone, or to reconcile with each other. There is no better opportunity to forget what hurts us, what is broken between us. It would be wrong for us to sit at the Christmas table with ill feelings or any divisions or to brood. Then we would certainly miss something very important, we can say, that we would lose the essence of Christmas. A poet once wrote: Even if Jesus was born one thousand times in Bethlehem, but not in our hearts and among us, we would be lost. Christmas is a special and very spiritual time, it is a time which God gives us every year as a gift and a challenge in a way, so that we may become more and more holy. He wants to come to us as an expected and invited guest, as the one who wants and is able to change and transform our hearts, our families and our community.

Finally, I would like to remind you and myself as well, that God and the family are the most important for us, especially now, especially at Christmas time. I wish you, in this holy time, to look at your life in a completely different light and experience Christmas with the joy and smile of a small child. Please do not miss out on Christmas. Do not overlook what is the essence of this holy and silent Bethlehem night.

Fr Gregory