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Spirituality of the Readings
The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Year C
December 19, 2021
John Foley, SJ

During Advent we have been celebrating our emptiness.

I suppose this sounds odd, and yet give it a thought. If we were completely filled up we would have no room to let anyone or anything in. We would be like a clump of mud or a great thick mountain. Nice to look at, maybe, but not so good at letting anything else get in.

Somewhere in scripture the people ask God to take their hearts of stone and make them into hearts of flesh. Throughout Advent we have been asking especially for that. For time to become aware of God and then thank God for the spacious emptiness that a human heart has within it. Living hearts, not stone ones.

Increasing our hearts and our openness can be frightening.

But increasing our heart’s openness can be frightening. The dark spreads out its kingdom every day here in the Northern hemisphere, even as Christmas comes near. We see less by natural light. And our body systems squirm to readjust.

True confession time: I used to be resentful as the daylight hours became shorter and shorter—and especially when “daylight savings time” collapsed and the dark settled in an hour sooner in the afternoon. It was dark well before I left the office. Depressing.

Such small creatures within so vast a night.

Finally, a few years ago, I saw some wisdom in deprivation and darkness. Increased dark allows human beings to hunker down inside their shelter—cozy and patient, waiting for the light to return, savoring the dark. This helps them reflect upon themselves.

God says as much to Bethlehem in the First Reading. It is as if he says,

You are so tiny! You are not even counted among the clans of Judah. You are empty of big ideas, power, royalty and influence. How can you be sufficient to bring forth a ruler of Jerusalem?

Light had already come from within that darkness, of course, sufficiency from insufficiency. King David had been born in Bethlehem, centuries before (see 1 Samuel: 17:12). And of course, Jesus was to be born in the same town. This strange, wide place in the road produced Kings?


It is the same way with our souls. Our dimness and our emptiness are where Jesus is to be born on Christmas. Such darkness includes whatever in us that is gloomy, angry, jealous, or just discouraged. The friends who leave us behind, who have a high, family time while we feel so alone: this is where the child will be born.

Watch Mary hasten to her cousin’s house, a long trip, on foot, over dirt and sand and rocks, under the hot, hot sun (Gospel). She does not need to be coddled and queenly in order to bring forth the Holy One. She does not spend a second worrying whether the way is too hard. Her soul somehow knows about the soft light that will shine from within her. Everything else is in second place.

Maybe emptiness can speak humbly from within you and me too.

For a minute or two we might quit trying so hard to make everything alright. Let go and let God. That way we will get to know the one whose “origins are old” (First Reading).

We might even let that One take up its home within us. It can make itself whatever size is needed for our souls.

What better Christmas could there be?

John Foley, SJ