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Monday, December 12, 2016

0501: Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Advent
by Pope Francis

Entry 0501: Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Advent    
 by Pope Francis (Updated 17 December 2017) 

Ofour occasions during his pontificate, Pope Francis has delivered reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, on 22 December 2013, 21 December 2014, 20 December 2015, and 18 December 2016. Here are the texts of the four brief addresses delivered prior to the recitation of the Angelus.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 22 December 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Gospel tells us about the events preceding the birth of Jesus, and the Evangelist Matthew presents them from the point of view of Saint Joseph, the betrothed of the Virgin Mary.

Joseph and Mary were dwelling in Nazareth; they were not yet living together, because they were not yet married. In the meantime, Mary, after having welcomed the Angel’s announcement, came to be with child by the power of the Holy Spirit. When Joseph realized this, he was bewildered. The Gospel does not explain what his thoughts were, but it does tell us the essential: he seeks to do the will of God and is ready for the most radical renunciation. Rather than defending himself and asserting his rights, Joseph chooses what for him is an enormous sacrifice. And the Gospel tells us: “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly” (1:19).

This brief sentence reveals a true inner drama if we think about the love that Joseph had for Mary! But even in these circumstances, Joseph intends to do the will of God and decides, surely with great sorrow, to send Mary away quietly. We need to meditate on these words in order to understand the great trial that Joseph had to endure in the days preceding Jesus’ birth. It was a trial similar to the sacrifice of Abraham, when God asked him for his son Isaac (see Gen 22): to give up what was most precious, the person most beloved.

But as in the case of Abraham, the Lord intervenes: he found the faith he was looking for and he opens up a different path, a path of love and of happiness. “Joseph,” he says, “do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20).

This Gospel passage reveals to us the greatness of Saint Joseph’s heart and soul. He was following a good plan for his life, but God was reserving another plan for him, a greater mission. Joseph was a man who always listened to the voice of God, he was deeply sensitive to his secret will, he was a man attentive to the messages that came to him from the depths of his heart and from on high. He did not persist in following his own plan for his life, he did not allow bitterness to poison his soul; rather, he was ready to make himself available to the news that, in a such a bewildering way, was being presented to him. And thus, he was a good man. He did not hate, and he did not allow bitterness to poison his soul. Yet how many times does hatred, or even dislike and bitterness poison our souls! And this is harmful. Never allow it: he is an example of this. And Joseph thereby became even freer and greater. By accepting himself according to God’s design, Joseph fully finds himself, beyond himself. His freedom to renounce even what is his, the possession of his very life, and his full interior availability to the will of God challenge us and show us the way.

Let us make ourselves ready to celebrate Christmas by contemplating Mary and Joseph: Mary, the woman full of grace who had the courage to entrust herself totally to the Word of God; Joseph, the faithful and just man who chose to believe the Lord rather than listen to the voices of doubt and human pride. With them, let us walk together toward Bethlehem.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 21 December 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

Today, the Fourth and last Sunday of Advent, the Liturgy wants to prepare us for Christmas, now at the door, by inviting us to meditate on the Angel’s Annunciation to Mary. The Archangel Gabriel reveals to the Virgin the Lord’s will that she become the mother of his Only-Begotten Son: “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Lk 1:31-32). Let us fix our gaze on this simple girl from Nazareth, at the moment she offers herself to the divine message with her “yes;” let us grasp two essential aspects of her attitude, which is for us the model of how to prepare for Christmas.

First of all her faith, her attitude of faith, which consists in listening to the Word of God in order to abandon herself to this Word with full willingness of mind and heart. Responding to the Angel, Mary said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38). In her “behold” filled with faith, Mary does not know by what road she must venture, what pains she must suffer, what risks she must face. But she is aware that it is the Lord asking and she entrusts herself totally to Him; she abandons herself to his love. This is the faith of Mary!

Another aspect is the capacity of the Mother of Christ to recognize God’s time. Mary is the one who made possible the Incarnation of the Son of God, “the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages” (Rom 16:25). She made possible the Incarnation of the Word thanks to her humble and brave “yes.” Mary teaches us to seize the right moment when Jesus comes into our life and asks for a ready and generous answer. And Jesus is coming. Indeed, the mystery of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem took place historically more than 2,000 years ago but occurs as a spiritual event in the “today” of the Liturgy. The Word, who found a home in the virgin womb of Mary, comes in the celebration of Christmas to knock once again at the heart of every Christian. He comes and knocks. Each of us is called to respond, like Mary, with a personal and sincere “yes,” placing oneself fully at the disposal of God and of his mercy, of his love. How many times Jesus comes into our lives, and how many times he sends us an angel, and how many times we don’t notice because we are so taken, immersed in our own thoughts, in our own affairs and even, in these days, in our Christmas preparations, so as not to notice Him who comes and knocks at the door of our hearts, asking for acceptance, asking for a “yes” like Mary’s. A saint used to say: “I am afraid that the Lord will come.” Do you know what the fear was? It was the fear of not noticing and letting Him pass by. When we feel in our hearts: “I would like to be a better man, a better woman. I regret what I have done.” That is the Lord knocking. He makes you feel this: the will to be better, the will to be closer to others, to God. If you feel this, stop. That is the Lord! And go to prayer, and maybe to confession, cleanse yourselves, this will be good. But keep well in mind: if you feel this longing to be better, He is knocking: don’t let Him pass by!

In the mystery of Christmas, at Mary’s side there is the silent presence of Saint Joseph, as he is portrayed in every Nativity scene—as in the one you can admire here in Saint Peter’s Square. The example of Mary and Joseph is for us all an invitation to accept, with total openness of spirit, Jesus, who for love made Himself our brother. He comes to bring to the world the gift of peace: “on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2:14), as the choirs of Angels proclaimed to the shepherds. The precious gift of Christmas is peace, and Christ is our true peace. And Christ knocks at our hearts to grant us peace, peace of the soul. Let us open our doors to Christ!

Let us entrust ourselves to the intercession of our Mother and of Saint Joseph in order to experience a truly Christian Christmas, free of all worldliness, ready to welcome the Savior, God-among-us.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 20 December 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

The Gospel for this Sunday of Advent highlights the figure of Mary. We see her when, just after having conceived in faith the Son of God, she makes the long trip from Nazareth, in Galilee, to the hill country of Judah, to visit and help her cousin Elizabeth. The Angel Gabriel had revealed to her that her elderly relative, who did not have children, was in her sixth month of pregnancy (see Lk 1:26-36). That’s why Our Lady, who carried within her a gift and an even greater mystery, goes to see Elizabeth and stays with her for three months. In the meeting between these two women—one old and the other young—it is the young one, Mary, who offers the first greeting. The Gospel says: “she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Lk 1:40). After this greeting, Elizabeth feels enveloped in great astonishment—don’t forget this word, astonishment. Astonishment. Elizabeth feels enveloped in great astonishment which is echoed in these words: “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (v. 43). And they embrace and kiss each other, joyfully, these two women. The elderly woman and the young one, both pregnant.

To celebrate Christmas in a fruitful manner, we are called to pause in “places” of astonishment. And what are these places of astonishment in everyday life? There are three. The first place is the other, in whom we recognize a brother or sister, because since the birth of Jesus occurred, every face is marked with a semblance to the Son of God. Above all when it is the face of the poor, because God entered the world poor, and it was to the poor, in the first place, that he allowed himself to draw near.

Another place of astonishment—the second place in which, if we look with faith, we actually feel astonishment, is history. So many times we think we see it the right way, and instead we risk reading it backwards. It happens, for example, when history seems to us to be determined by the market economy, regulated by finance and business, dominated by the powers that be. The God of Christmas is instead a God who “shuffles the cards”—he likes doing so! As Mary sings in the Magnificat, it is the Lord who puts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts those of low degree, who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty (see Lk 1:52-53). This is the second type of astonishment, astonishment in history.

The third place of astonishment is the Church. To look on her with the astonishment of faith means not limiting oneself to consider her only as a religious institution, which she is, but to feel her as a mother who, despite her blemishes and wrinkles—we have so many of them!—allows the features of the beloved bride purified by Christ the Lord to shine through. A Church that is able to recognize the many signs of faithful love that God continuously sends her. A Church for which the Lord Jesus will never be a possession to be jealously protected; those who do this err. The Lord Jesus will always be the One who comes to meet her and whom she knows how to await with trust and joy, giving voice to the hope of the world. The Church that calls to the Lord, “Come Lord Jesus.” The Mother Church that always has her doors open wide, and her arms open to welcome everyone. Moreover, Mother Church goes out from her own doors to seek with a mother’s smile all those who are far and bring them to the mercy of God. This is the astonishment of Christmas.

At Christmas, God gives us all of himself by giving his Only Son, who is all his joy. It is only with the heart of Mary, the humble and poor daughter of Zion, who became the Mother of the Son of the Most High, that it is possible to rejoice and be glad for the great gift of God and for his unpredictable surprise. May she help us to perceive the astonishment—these three wonders: the other, history and the Church—through the birth of Jesus, the gift of gifts, the undeserved gift who brings us salvation. The encounter with Jesus will enable us too to feel this great astonishment. We cannot have this astonishment, however, we cannot encounter Jesus, if we do not encounter him in others, in history and in the Church.



Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 18 December 2016

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

The liturgy for today, the Fourth and last Sunday of Advent, is characterized by the theme of closeness, God’s closeness to humanity. The Gospel passage (see Mt 1:18-24) shows us two people, the two people who, more than anyone else, were involved in this mystery of love: the Virgin Mary and her husband, Joseph. A mystery of love, the mystery of God’s closeness to humanity.

Mary is presented in the light of the prophet who says: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (v. 23). Matthew the Evangelist recognizes that this happened in Mary, who conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit (see v. 18). The Son of God “comes” into her womb in order to become man, and she welcomes him. Thus, in a unique way, God drew near to mankind, taking on flesh through a woman: God drew near to us and took on flesh through a woman. To us too, in a different way, God draws near with his grace in order to enter our life and offer us the gift of his Son. What do we do? Do we welcome him, let him draw near, or do we reject him, push him away? As Mary, freely offering herself to the Lord of history, allowed him to change the destiny of mankind, so too can we, by welcoming Jesus and seeking to follow him each day, cooperate in his salvific plan for us and for the world. Mary thus appears to us as a model to look to and upon whose support we can count in our search for God, in our closeness to God, in thus allowing God to draw close to us and in our commitment to build the culture of love.

The other protagonist of today’s Gospel is Saint Joseph. The Evangelist highlights that alone, Joseph cannot explain to himself the event which he sees taking place before his eyes, namely, Mary’s pregnancy. Just then, in that moment of doubt, even anguish, God approaches him—him too—through his messenger and [Joseph] is enlightened about the nature of this maternity: “the child conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (see v. 20). Thus, in facing this extraordinary event, which surely gave rise to many questions in his heart, he trusts totally in God who has drawn near to him, and after his invitation, does not repudiate his betrothed, but takes her to him and takes Mary to wife. In accepting Mary, Joseph knowingly and lovingly receives Him who has been conceived in her through the wondrous work of God, for whom nothing is impossible. Joseph, a just and humble man (see v. 19), teaches us to always trust in God, who draws near to us: when God approaches us, we must entrust ourselves to him. Joseph teaches us to allow ourselves to be guided by Him with willing obedience.

These two figures, Mary and Joseph, who were the first to welcome Jesus through faith, introduce us to the mystery of Christmas. Mary helps us to assume an attitude of openness in order to welcome the Son of God into our concrete life, in our flesh. Joseph spurs us to always seek God’s will and to follow it with full trust. Both allow God to draw near to them.

“‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel’, which means, God-with-us” (Mt 1:23). Thus the angel says: “the child shall be called Emmanuel, which means God-with-us,” in other words, God near to us. And to God who draws near, do I open the door—to the Lord—when I sense an interior inspiration, when I hear him ask me to do something more for others, when he calls me to pray?

God-with-us, God who draws near. This message of hope, which is fulfilled at Christmas, leads to fulfilment of the expectation of God in each one of us too, in all the Church, and in the many little ones whom the world scorns, but whom God also loves and to whom God draws near

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For reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Advent 

 by Pope Benedict XVI,
please scroll down to the bottom of this page.

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