You’ve probably heard the classic use of the phrase “this is a marathon, not a sprint”. In the athletic spectrum, sprinting and marathon running are at starkly different. When taking part in a long-distance running event, it is not about how fast one can run, unlike sprint events. It is about endurance and stamina; it is also about pacing oneself and strategy. In running long-distance races, sprinting too early may cause one to run the risk of not lasting the entire distance; whereas a poor start makes it very hard to recover and catch up with those ahead. However, you will notice marathon or long-distance runners muster a burst in the final metres of a race. As they reach the final stretch and the finishing line is in sight, there is a sudden surge of energy, a fresh rush of adrenalin that kicks in to give the body every ounce of energy that is left to finish the race.
With the fourth Sunday of Advent, we too are on the final stretch of the run where the finishing line is now in full view – Christmas. Many of us would have been “pacing” ourselves with “unveiling” the Christmas decorations stage by stage and surely by now, the elaborate decorations and dazzling lights are in full display. There may be a fresh rush of adrenalin as “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” at every corner.
Today, the Gospel of Luke describes the incarnation of Jesus, the announcement that is going to change the course of human history – the final distance where God’s promise to send His Son would be realised. With the “yes” of Mary, Jesus was conceived and became human in her womb. It is good that we are presented with the account of the Annunciation this Sunday because, with Christmas in sight, it’s easy to forget what we liturgically celebrated nine months ago.
In the gospel passage, we are presented with two remarkable stories that clearly demonstrate how God can do all things in the face of the impossible. We observe how Mary is asked to believe and have complete trust in what she too initially considered as totally unfathomable. Equally far-fetched is being informed by angel Gabriel that her relative, the aged and barren Elizabeth has also conceived a son. One can totally understand why Mary’s immediate response to the angel was, “how can this come about?” However, the conversation with angel Gabriel finally presents Mary with some understanding and subsequent submission to the splendour of God’s omnipotent vision… for what is impossible for man is made possible with God.
The fact that the Saviour of the world was about to become a part of our human world reminds us not only that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. It is because Jesus lived as a man, He is able to embrace and fully understand the whole of humanity, accept our world and be fully involved in it. Through the incarnation, He will not only renew and restore but also redeem humanity and the world that we live in.
This however does not mean that we no longer are devoid of suffering, injustices, or even absurdities. The mystery of the Incarnation is the mystery of God meeting us right where we are at, not only in the joys of human living but also in our struggles, sufferings and challenges. That is why God deems to step into history in a direct way, fully embracing the reality of our human sin and weakness, but yet is able to offer us an encounter that is redeeming… this is what we are being asked to believe in these trying times as we approach Christmas.
As the news of not being able to go to Mass at Christmas sinks in, surely there are many among you who feel sad, dejected, hopeless, frustrated and even angry, probably asking – how long more should we wait? These feelings are relatable given how the year has panned out. However, the words of Pope Francis come to mind when he spoke about the Incarnation: “God’s way of acting is a strong stimulus for us to ask ourselves about the reality of our faith, which should not be limited to the arena of feelings, or emotions, but must enter into the concrete reality of our existence.” If we are going to allow ourselves to wallow and be controlled by the emotions of not being able to be physically present at Mass this Christmas, the encounter of experiencing God when He comes to meet us right where we are will escape us. What a tragedy and missed opportunity that would be.
As we run this final Advent lap with Christmas in sight, focus is paramount, a fresh rush of adrenalin needed. The Church invites us to pray through and tangibly feel the virtue of hope in the midst of this pandemic. Like Mary, though we may not fully understand, we must wait patiently on God and trust in His providence. Let us not be easily distracted by things around us but keep our sight in focus as we marvel at how God so powerfully entered into our lives, our history, and even our sin.
In the words of an early Christian philosopher and apologists Justin Martyr, God “became man for our sakes, that by becoming a partaker of our sufferings, He might also bring us healing.” In short, God is with us – Emmanuel. With this, we find total comfort and assurance in the splendour of God’s omnipotent love that heals us of the pains of this pandemic-era and lifts us into the warmth of His eternal presence. Amen.
Fourth Sunday of Advent (20 Dec 2020)