Sunday, December 23, 2012

Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent

Micah 5:1-4a
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45

Today we hear the story of the visitation. 

It’s a beautiful story filled with awe and wonder, hope and anticipation, as we await the birth of our Lord and Savior.

Christmas is almost here. 

As we reflect on the story of Mary’s visit with her cousin Elizabeth today, I encourage us to see clearly what’s happening here. 

Mary is all alone in her predicament.  She has yet to tell a single person about her conversation with the angel Gabriel and what he revealed. 

She probably thinks no one will believe her and understands she’ll be an outcast for being pregnant out of wedlock.   

In her aloneness, Mary seeks out a close relative who is bearing a miracle of her own.  Elizabeth and her child are filled with nothing, but pure joy when they encounter the Mother of our Lord and Christ in the womb. 

There‘s a beauty to letting the Virgin Mary enter our homes and our hearts as a way of getting closer to Jesus -- especially when we feel all alone.

Sometimes in life we lose hope.  We feel abandoned by God.   We feel alone. 

It is at times like these the Prophet Micah in the first reading encourages us never to lose hope.  God will fulfill his promise of a Messiah to bring us hope, a future King to lead us all in peace.  

Hope is about to dawn on a troubled world. 

I’d like to share with you the story of another visitation.

It happened at a hospice where I was serving this time last year in a pastoral internship. 

I felt called to this hospice because it catered to patients with HIV/AIDS and because, frankly, I was very afraid of death. 

In our diaconate formation, we were encouraged to go to places where we could face our greatest fears in order to grow.

It wasn’t the disease AIDS that made me fearful. 

No, I was afraid of death.  And especially fearful of the idea of dying alone. 

My pastoral supervisor was an Episcopal minister and the Director of Spiritual Care at the hospice.  She was an excellent mentor each Sunday as I spent hours a week walking the halls and visiting the dying.

She encouraged me to face my fears as a way of growing in my faith in the Lord.

She also helped me to understand that sometimes people near death need to be alone in order to die peacefully.  When family is present sometimes it can be difficult for the dying to leave this world because they’re still clinging to all that is precious in life. 

This made sense intellectually, but did not dispel the fear I had of dying alone.

       It was there I met a meek, humble, “gentle spirit” named Monique.  Monique was a native of Africa who was abandoned by her husband shortly after her diagnosis of late stage HIV-AIDS.

She had a son in his 20s, but had lost touch with him in recent years.

Monique was in a Seattle hospital with no family at her bedside.  She was in her 40s, in her final weeks of life and all alone.

        Monique spoke in a very slow, deliberate manner reminiscent of someone struggling to find words after experiencing a stroke. 

I didn’t know if this was due to the symptoms of late stage AIDS or some abuse she may have experienced.

        During our visits, I brought her communion and found her faith to be quite strong.  We had wonderful conversations. 

She’d been Catholic all her life.  As we would pray together, I sensed such a deep presence of God in our weekly chats.  It was hallowed ground every time we’d meet and speak and share Jesus Christ. 

         The Eucharist brought her much peace and strength.  It was beautiful to be a part of this experience. 

         One day I stopped by to see Monique.  The end was near. 

As I walked into her room she was in a lot of pain, both physical and emotional, and crying out loudly.  I told her I was there and she looked me right in the eye, but she could not speak.

I asked her if she was afraid.  She cried and slowly shook her head, yes.  I asked her if she felt alone.  And she “cried out in a loud voice.” 

I said, “You’re not alone.  Jesus is right here.”  And I held up the pix containing the body of Christ. 

I asked her if she wanted communion.  She slowly nodded yes.

We have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  We heard that in our second reading today from Hebrews.

        I did the Communion service, blessed her with holy water and tried to find words of comfort, but felt the fear closing in on me.  Monique was going to die alone.

        I said a Hail Mary before departing. 

Now, I’ve always found comfort in the Rosary in times of need.  After all, we Catholics know the Hail Mary comes from both the scripture of today’s Gospel reading and the visit by the Angel Gabriel Mary was so eager to share with Elizabeth.

        As I departed, I grabbed Monique's hand, looked her in the eyes and told her I would see her again.  She gave a weak smile and appeared peaceful as I left the room.

         Sadly I would never see her in person again.

         But that’s when Monique’s visitation happened.

         A few days before her death, Monique’s sister, cousins and other family members traveled from far way to be at her bedside in her final week of life.   

        The staff only knew Monique as a round-faced, bald woman with a gentle spirit and soft-spoken nature.

Little did they know that Monique was the most spirited member of her family.  She always seemed to be the center of attention. 

They loved her so much and wanted to be there for her, their beloved sister, aunt and cousin in the end.

They were with her every moment of her final days, praying and singing together.  Monique did not die alone.

        Today’s Gospel said, “Blessed are you who believed.”   

Christ entered that room and brought peace to all there.  Christ’s abundance of loving mercy prevailed in a time of great sadness and aloneness. 

“For now his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.”  Today’s reading from Micah is right. 

God in His abundant mercy gives us signs that Jesus Christ is in our midst.  Even in our darkest moments, we are not alone.  God doesn’t abandon us. 

Current events may make us wonder where God is, but we are never alone.  God was with Monique.  God is with families grieving in Newtown, Connecticut. 

Jesus Christ is with each and every one of us connected to Him by the sacrament of Holy Communion. 

So, may your hearts be filled with awe and wonder, hope and anticipation.  May you invite the Virgin Mary into your home and welcome baby Jesus into our world to remind us all we are never, ever alone.

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