s the fourth Advent candle was lit in honor of the angels who told the good news to the shepherds, Monsignor Alfred Culmer called for people to reflect more deeply on what Christmas is all about. And for people to reflect on the gift of life, the gift of faith, and the gift of love.
“Let Christ be at the heart of all we do at Christmas this year,” encouraged Culmer, priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church during his Sunday sermon.
With Christmas celebrated tomorrow, he called for people to reflect more deeply on what Christmas is about.
“No doubt, for many this year, the celebration of Christmas will be very different – perhaps this year will provide us with the opportunity to see the greatest gift of all is in the celebration of the Feast of Christmas, and is the gift of self.”
According to Culmer, this is what God offers to his people, time and again – the gift of his love, manifested in his only son.
“Let Christ be at the heart of all we do at Christmas this year. Celebrate the gift of life, for so many have died during the course of this year from a single virus called COVID-19. We who survive and are still alive must give thanks with a grateful heart.”
On the fourth Sunday, the season of Advent journey shifts direction – the waiting is over. In the face of the impossible, God works the possible.
“Mary is asked to believe this,” said the Catholic priest. “She is open and she is accepting. She is to believe something even more impossible – the old and barren Elizabeth, her cousin, is pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.”
Culmer said the faithful are reminded that the time of fulfillment is at hand on the fourth Sunday of Advent, that the mystery hidden is revealed, and God works the impossible.
“In Mary, we see the audacity of hope, and the depths of faith. She believed and she trusted that the word spoken to her by the angel would be fulfilled.”
He said for that reason Mary is a model of Catholicism and is called the primary disciple as she was the first one to listen and to follow her son, Jesus.
“She believed. She trusted. And she waited in confidence for the fulfillment of God’s plan for the new creation that would come about in Jesus. Today, we too, are called to show forth this faith and trust in God. It has been said that tough times do not last, but tough people do. People of faith recognize that nothing can be impossible with God. We have faith and hope in the God who loves us into the fullness of life,” he said.
“In the midst of all the pain and anxiety, uncertainties, disappointments, unfulfilled dreams, plans delayed or abandoned, loss of job, living from hand to mouth, utility bills piling up, rent payments overdue, stress and worry over where the next meal will come from – yes, these are only some of the stark realities that face so many in our nation today – but we are reminded that in spite of all these adversities, our God is able and he will bring us through this dark night of the soul, for nothing would be impossible for God.”
The monsignor said Mary was a young girl of deep faith – trusting and prayerful. And that perhaps the people of today can learn how to be more trusting of God in the midst of life’s challenges and adversities.
“Every day we are reminded that fear is useless and that what is needed is trust … what is needed is faith. Fear turns us in on ourselves and leads to self-doubt – a sense of unworthiness and uselessness.
“Faith turns us inside out, and brings us to the realization that this too shall pass for our God will bring us through. Faith brings us into the sunshine of God’s grace and shines forth a new life through the clouds of darkness and isolation, abandonment, loneliness and uncertainty that fear generates in our hearts.”
During his Sunday sermon, Culmer said that throughout the gospels, Jesus preaches that the kingdom of God is near and calls for those with ear to hear, to repent and to believe.
“We could say that the first person who hears these words and draws near to his kingdom is Mary. The Angel Gabriel tells her that the child she will bear will be called holy, the son of God. In Mary’s reliance and trust in God’s word, the kingdom of God takes root in her just as it would take root in each of us who believe.”
He said there is the expectation that there will be gifts around the tree, lavish meals around the table, visitation of families and friends, toasting and feasting, and that it will be missed this year, but he encouraged people to engage in reflection.
“This Christmas, let us reflect on the gift of life, the gift of faith, the gift of love,” said Culmer.
He further said Mary is often called the primary disciple because of her relationship to Christ, her son. And explained that the word disciple refers to someone who learns, studies, and follows a certain teacher or set of teachings. He said that it seems that even before Mary’s news of her calling to become the mother of God, incarnate she must have already learned her faith well.
“To be a disciple one must not be solely a student, but in relationship with the teacher. We are told that Mary was troubled and pensive, and even asked the question, how can this be? She wants to understand, but she is trusting.”
He said the people of today do not always understand.
“Many questions have been raised regarding the COVID-19 virus – questions to which there is no reasonable answer, but we can say for sure that the virus and its effects are real. It is in the midst of these challenges and experiences we are called to be resilient in faith and ardent in hope.”
Culmer said the joy of the Lord is his strength, and urged people not to give in to situations in life.
“Do not give situations in life permission to destroy or kill your joy, your peace, your hope, your confidence in God who is the author and giver of all life,” he said.
The Gospel of Luke presents an account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. It’s a scene Culmer describes as “gentle” and one that reflects the very best of humanity – one cousin going to help another cousin who is about to give birth. Each gave birth to an important religious figure.
“It is when we serve others that we encounter Jesus Christ. It is when we give ourselves in love that we find that we are loved. It is in the simple and ordinary that we find the powerful light of God,” said Culmer. “Let us live these few remaining days of Advent, waiting, serving, loving, trusting that the Lord is indeed transforming our lives in Jesus Christ, the gift of God. Jesus is our Christmas gift from God. He is our gift every day from God – let us in turn share that gift with others,” said the priest.