You can listen to the Gospel and Sunday homily here.
The bulletin article follows:
So Advent begins. And I have to tell you that I hope you have nothing planned for the 4th week of Advent this year. Why? Because that 4th week kind of doesn’t exist. Advent will always have 4 Sundays, which we do have this year—since Advent begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas. But this year, Christmas falls on a Monday (the 25th, in case you were wondering). That changes everything. On Sunday, December 24th (and the evening before), we will celebrate the 4th Sunday of Advent. However, in the evening on that very Sunday, we will celebrate Christmas Eve, with Christmas Masses following the next day.
What this means is that on Sunday, Dec. 24th, our Church will celebrate Masses at 8:30 & 10:00 am, and at 4:00 and 6:00 pm — two for Advent and two for Christmas (Eve). More importantly, there is in effect no 4th week of Advent. All this means that we have three full weeks of hope, expectation and preparation, rather than four.
As someone who loves Advent, especially the latter days, I have to admit that I’m left feeling a bit cheated by the calendar. Of course, this is something that happens every 5 or 6 years (depending on leap years). But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. A whole week of readings and prayers won’t be celebrated this year.
But neither you nor I can do anything to change that. This fact can actually lead us more deeply into one of the central dynamics of the Advent season. In early Advent, we consider the return of Jesus at the end of time. We move on to John the Baptist and his ministry of preparation for the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, and follow that with consideration of the pregnancy of Mary, and the imminent miracle of the Incarnation at Bethlehem. None of us, or John, or Mary herself, can do anything to hasten the coming of these events. We can well imagine John baptizing at the Jordan day after day, wondering when the Lamb would appear. We can picture Mary in her ninth month, even as she traveled to Bethlehem with Joseph, with no say over when her child would be born. There is a deeply rooted experience of powerlessness at the very heart of Advent.
This does not mean, however, that we do nothing. Quite to the contrary, our task is to wait. Our task is to prepare to accept the gift, the greatest gift the world has ever known. We do that by nurturing deep within our hearts a desire for the coming of Jesus, for the birth of the God-man. We ask God for the grace to be “as the deer longing for running streams” longing for the Lord to enter into our hearts and our lives.
We can’t make it happen, in four weeks or in three. But we can prepare ready and willing hearts to welcome him when he comes. That work of preparation is what we call Advent.