Bible Reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent: Luke 1: 39-45
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, Sj (The Freeman) - December 19, 2015 - 9:00am

Some of you may remember a little book entitled “The Little Prince.”

The Little Prince was from another planet, a very small one.

One day he found himself stranded on earth.  One inhabitant on earth

who helped him very much was an animal, a fox.

Eventually, a deep friendship developed between the two.

At one point the Little Prince and the fox had to go their separate ways.  Just before they did, the fox insisted on setting the exact time for their next meeting.  They agreed on four o’clock on a certain day.

When the Little Prince asked the fox why he wanted to set time so exactly, the fox said, “If I know you’re coming at four o’clock then I’ll begin to be happy at three o’clock.”

The Fourth Sunday of Advent is like that.  It begins a week of special anticipation that Christmas is only a few days away.  And like the fox, we are already beginning to feel happy as we prepare for the arrival of another “Little Prince.” – the Prince of Peace.

Our hearts are beginning to fill up with joy.  And the joy that fills our hearts is the same joy that filled the heart of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel reading.  It’s the joy that made him jump inside his mother’s womb when he experienced the approach of Mary.

What John experienced and made him jump was a powerful magnetic presence.  It was a presence so powerful that he could feel it with his whole being.  It was a presence so magnetic that he was drawn to it with every fiber of his existence.  It was a presence that we have all experienced at rare moments in our lives. It was the presence of Jesus himself.

Psychologists refer to such an experience as a “peak moment.”  Fr. Mark Link illustrates it by this true story as described by William James:

One night a man stood all alone on a deserted hilltop.  It was one of those beautiful nights when stars fill the sky, love fills the heart, and peace fills the soul.  As the man stood there, waves of joy began to sweep over him. He felt like someone who was listening to a magnificent symphony.  All the notes were harmonizing in a way that made his heart burst with emotion.  Suddenly, the man began to feel that another person was present on the hilltop with him.  Then a remarkable thing happened.

The other person’s presence grew so intense that it became more real to him than his own presence.  Later the man said, “My faith in God was born that night on that hilltop.”

That was a peak experience! It’s a moment when, for a brief instant, we glimpse another world that is infinitely bigger, infinitely more beautiful, and infinitely more real than the one we live in.

That kind of experience gives us an idea of what Elizabeth meant, when she said to Mary, “The moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”

Luke intends the movement of the baby in Elizabeth’s womb to be a response to the presence of Jesus in Mary’s own womb. Elizabeth’s baby, even in its unborn state, sensed Jesus’ presence and leaped for joy.  The leaping of John in Elizabeth’s womb previews something that will happen again and again in Jesus’ lifetime. It previews the powerful impact Jesus will have on people.

Two examples will illustrate this.  The first took place on the Sea of Galilee early in the ministry of Jesus.  Simon Peter and Andrew had just returned from a night of unsuccessful fishing.

Jesus stepped into their boat and told them to put out into deeper water. Then he told them to lower their net.  Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.”

When they had done this, they caught such a great number of fish that their nets were bursting.

The Gospel tells us that: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’” In other words, in that brief moment, Peter sensed the holiness of Jesus in a way that he’d never experienced before.

The second example took place one day, when Jesus went up a mountain to pray.  He took Peter, James, and John with him.  Suddenly Jesus’ face began to shine like the sun, and a cloud covered him.

Matthew describes what happen next: “From the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased listen to him.’  When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.”

For a brief moment, Peter, James, and John experienced a dimension of Jesus they had never experienced before.  It was a moment they would never forget.  Years later, Peter said of it:

“We had been eyewitnesses of his mystery… We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.”

Many people still experience today what John experienced in Elizabeth’s womb, what Peter experienced on the seashore, and what the three disciples experienced on the mountain.

In his biography “The Seven-Storey Mountain,” Thomas Merton, the great author and convert to Catholicism, describes an experience of Jesus he had in his late teens.

After graduating from high school. Thomas traveled around Europe.  During these travels he discovered Europe’s magnificent cathedrals, with their inspiring statues and stained-glass windows.  He writes:

“This discovery was tremendous… I began to haunt the churches…

For the first time in my life I began to find out something of who the person was that men called Christ.”

But what is more important, Merton says, “I began to [experience] Christ himself present in those churches.”

Man willing it cannot produce an experience of the presence of Jesus. It cannot be programmed.  It cannot be staged or wished into existence. Nothing can make it happen.

It can only happen on its own.  It’s a gift from God Himself.  All we can do is to be ready for it, to dispose ourselves to receive the gift.

That’s what Advent is for.  It’s a time, when we dispose ourselves for the coming of Jesus into our lives. We may never experience Jesus with the same intensity John did in Elizabeth’s womb, or Peter did on the seashore, or the three disciples did on the mountain, or Merton did in the cathedrals of Europe. But we do know this much.  If we dispose ourselves for the coming of Jesus, if we continue to try to open ourselves to Jesus in our lives, the day will come when we will indeed experience His presence.

It won’t be a faint, brief passing experience. It will be an intense, lasting experience.  It will be a face-to-face experience in heaven. And when that face-to-face experience happens, we’ll also experience the exciting truth of which St. Paul wrote when he said:

“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” (1 Cor. 2:9)

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