I know that on today, this fourth Sunday of Advent, we will light the fourth advent candle of love. Yet as I read today’s scriptures, what I am thinking about is how much the virtue of courage is at the center of these passages. Courage is the cardinal virtue that enables us to stand firm even in the face of difficulties. Courage enables us to resist temptation and also helps us to change the habits that we need to change so that we become better people. If we are to live our Christian lives well, we need the good habit of courage. So on this last Sunday, as we await the coming of Christ, perhaps both the good news and our moral exhortation is:
The prophet Micah first speaks of courage as he describes who this child will be that comes from the small town of Bethlehem. Though this child comes from lowly beginnings, he will “stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord.” He “shall be peace” – which is especially courageous in a violence-loving world like ours.
So it is: Christians see in Jesus the enactment of these words from Micah. Jesus is our peace, as Paul will proclaim in the letter to the Ephesians (2:14). Yet as many theologians down through the centuries have described, living Jesus’ peace requires courage, especially the courage to stand against the temptation to be right, to be first, to seek security.
Jesus’ own birth proclaims that God comes to us so very often in the small, the insignificant, the poor – like the little town of Bethlehem. But it takes courage to stand with the minority and the hidden ones.
Today’s second reading speaks further of who Jesus is: he is the one who comes to do God’s will. We Christians who are baptized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, seek a life and death like his as well. Yet we know – and aren’t we maybe a bit afraid – of the kind of places following God’s will takes us? Listening to God’s voice means that I am often doing things I would rather not be doing – large and small. I never thought I’d be married with children. But I never thought that today, I’d be making a meal for someone having surgery either.
And then of course, in today’s gospel, I see both Elizabeth’s and Mary’s courage to proclaim the good news. Somehow, a baby – someone they don’t even see yet, is “The Lord” and has fulfilled what prophets proclaimed many centuries before they lived. To take the small thread of a story and to have faith – the people of Israel do this constantly. Mary and Elizabeth continue the thread in their recognition of who Jesus is.
Our world needs that proclamation, and the courage of those who can proclaim Jesus is Lord. It is, I think, harder than ever these days. Yet this is the candle that lights our way today: the courage to be people of God, yet again, and the courage to live the virtues in service of God, even in a world that doesn’t recognize Him.