December 24, 2011 - Saturday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Today's Readings

As we conclude Advent today, we once again see a theme that runs through Advent, that of beginning and end. In John the Baptist, we have the end of prophecy and the beginning of the Kingdom of God. In the Annunciation, the visit of Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, we have the end of the time of promise and the beginning of the time of fulfillment. And Advent also commemorates the end of the world, which we call the end of the world because it is our world and we are used to it, but it is really the beginning of the next world.

Our readings today carry this theme. In our Gospel, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist gives one last prophecy, the last prophecy of the Old Testament. It is like the prophecy of Abraham, and the prophecy of Balaam, and the prophecy of Moses, and Isaiah, and Ezekiel, and Malachi, and the other Zechariah, except that it is being fulfilled even as he speaks.

What is the difference between us and someone 3000 years ago? They did not have cars or smartphones or computers. They did not know anyone who had been to the moon. But the greatest difference is not any of this. The greatest difference is that they did not have Jesus. Of course, Jesus existed. He is God. He has always existed and always will exist, but he had not come yet in a body, he had not yet lain in a manger.

This difference is captured by Zechariah at the end of his prophecy: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will visit us, to shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.” Back then, death cast a shadow across one’s whole life. No matter how good life was, whether the emperor of Rome or the richest man in the world, the looming prospect of death overshadowed every pleasure.

But it is not so for us. The dawn from on high, Jesus Christ, has come, and just as the dawn out there is destroying every shadow, so this shadow is being destroyed. Death remains, but it no longer casts a shadow over life. We do not have to be afraid of death anymore. It no longer signifies destruction. It is an end but also a beginning.