A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes - and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent - Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
When I was little I liked certain Advent calendars that revealed each day a little new bit of a nativity scene. As you opened a door to grab a tiny treat the bigger picture behind would take shape… the head of an ox, some straw, a shepherd, a star, St Joseph, the Virgin, and eventually, after many days of waiting and many chocolates, a little manger with a baby.
On the Fourth Sunday of Advent our Advent calendars are running out and almost all the door are opened to reveal the mystery of God made flesh in the most unlikely of places. Likewise, almost all the candles on our wreath are lit, all except one. During the course of four weeks we have rehearsed half of the story of salvation. We started with the patriarchs, then we’ve commemorated the prophets, then we thought about St John the Baptist, and today we have lit the penultimate candle for the Virgin, Our Blessed Mother – the one who came from the stock of the patriarchs, was foretold by the prophets, was greeted with joy by John from the womb of Elizabeth, and was prepared from all eternity to become the means through which the Immanuel, God-with-us, could truly be “with us”. As we read twice in today’s readings The Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14.
Now, I began my homily with some words from the twentieth century theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer because I found his reference about a door of freedom interesting and quite appropriate for lighting the fourth candle in honour of Mary. During the course of four weeks we have waited patiently for the bigger picture to be revealed, for the final door to open and grant us a glimpse of the light of heaven. So by lighting this candle today in a sense we celebrate the door of freedom which God opens to grant us redemption in the birth of Jesus.
One of the titles that the Church has attributes to Mary is Ianua Coeli – Door of heaven – because through her childbearing, through her faithful and single-minded obedience to God’s will, Mary becomes the door that allows the life of heaven to come into our world, to meet us, and to save us.
Bonhoeffer affirms that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside and in the birth of Jesus we see just this; the door can only remain close or become open, but it God who takes the initiative and opening the door He comes to us in Jesus Christ entering our world, meeting us, and saving us. Mary becomes the means through which God’s initiative is accomplished, the door connecting the realms of heaven with creation in a physical, intimate way.
If we look at the post-Communion prayer we see a hint that we too are invited to become doors of heaven for the entire world – that is, through us Jesus and the life of heaven could reach those around us.
[Father], fill us your servants with your grace,that in all things we may embrace your holy willand with [Mary] rejoice in your salvation.
Embracing the will of God, fulfilling the initiative He has taken for each and every one of us, makes us doors of heaven through which others can experience the fullness of life that Jesus has brought at his wondrous birth.
We cannot reveal the bigger picture by ourselves, but together as the Church and by embracing the will of God we become like little doors on Advent calendars, revealing bit by bit the bigger picture of God salvation for creation.
Christmas starts in a few days and as you well know this is a time when many families struggle to be together in harmony and at ease – perhaps it is because of some unaddressed grief, some secret guilt, and some unwillingness to forgive. Being a door of heaven in these circumstances, among relatives and friends, will require you to be attentive of others, to lovingly hush that gossip, to kindly paper over the cracks caused by an ancient family feud, to provide comfort for those who find it difficult to reconcile the events of the year past, to provide for a person in her unspoken need.
Are you ready to be a door of heaven for those around you and to rejoice with Mary in the salvation of God?
O Jesus, living in Mary,
Come and live in Thy servants,
In the spirit of Thy holiness, In the fullness of Thy might,
In the truth of Thy virtues, In the perfection of Thy ways,
In the communion of Thy mysteries.
Subdue every hostile power
In Thy spirit, for the glory of the Father. Amen.