'The angel said..."Nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your Word"....' -- Lk 1:35,37-38

As we enter the final week of our season of Advent, our journey and preparations for the "advent" of the Lord are nearly at an end. Not surprisingly, the Scripture readings and the prayers and music at Mass also have this atmosphere of breathless anticipation.

Above all, there is a sense that God's promises are now fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. The prayer after communion for this Sunday can sum up our thoughts and feelings: "We pray, almighty God, that as the feast day of our salvation draws ever nearer, so we may press forward all the more eagerly to the worthy celebration of the mystery of your Son's Nativity."

Our first reading (2 Sm 7:1-5,8-12,14,16) recalls the promise of God made through the prophet Nathan that the kingdom of David will be established forever. For us, this promise is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, "Son of David." As we hear in the Gospel, "The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father, David." This kingdom and throne extends to all places, peoples and times.

Getting excited
Psalm 88 takes up this sense of excitement as it sings of the mercy and goodness of God now made manifest. Like the "Magnificat" or song of Mary that we heard last week, this psalm speaks of God's promise expressed in His relationship or covenant with His people, and how God acts to bring about the fulfilment of His promise and the completion of the covenant.

Likewise, St. Paul (Rom 16:25-27) reflects on how God's plan and promise has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This mystery is now revealed in Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection.

At Mass on the fourth Sunday of Advent, our Gospel is always about one of the annunciations made in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. In a way, there is more than one annunciation Gospel, not just the annunciation of the archangel Gabriel to Mary that we have this Sunday: In liturgical year A, we would read about the angel of the Lord appearing to St. Joseph in a dream and telling him to take Mary for his wife; in Year C, we would hear the "Gospel of the Visitation," when Mary goes to meet her kinswoman Elizabeth. Elizabeth recognizes the mother of her Lord and St. John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother's womb, both announcing that the Messiah is near.

An annunciation
This year (Year B) of our three-year cycle, we hear the most familiar annunciation: that of the archangel Gabriel to Mary (Lk 1:26-38). This scene has been frequently depicted in art. Look up one of the many paintings and spend a few minutes reflecting upon it in prayer. There is a beautiful movement or flow in the encounter: a greeting, a revelation and promise, a reaction to that promise and a promise in turn of saying "yes."

Our readings are not only about how God's promises are fulfilled at Christmas. They invite us to think about our response to this annunciation of the Good News of salvation. We may not have an archangel visit, but God sends His messengers to us. We are not asked to be the mother of God, but we are asked to be our Lord's brothers and sisters and to bring others into His family.

Like our Blessed Mother, we should enter into a dialogue with the Lord ("How can this be?"), for God's visits are not always warm fuzzies. They can be troubling, too! We can take a deep breath and say "yes" to what He asks of us: "Be it done to me according to your Word."

As Christmas approaches, let us give thanks for the coming of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Our celebrations are ultimately about how God's promise has been fulfilled: Jesus has been born for us. He will also suffer, die and rise for us. Christmas and Easter are bound together!

The opening prayer for Mass this Sunday puts it well: "Pour forth, we beseech you, o Lord, your grace into our hearts; that we to whom the incarnation of Christ, your Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His passion and cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection."