First Reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8 – 12, 14, 16
Romans 16: 25 – 27
Gospel Luke 1: 26 – 38
The dramatic readings for this fourth Sunday of Advent place us right in the heart of a central mystery in the Bible: the mystery of God’s providence. God cares for his world, but often in a way that is confounding to us, because God plays a subtle and long game. God is a God who makes promises, and he is faithful to them. But they often don’t arrive just as we’d expect—which is why we have to wait. The readings tell of God’s gracious initiative towards us. Their focus is not on what we do for God but on what God does for us. Even when we don’t realize it, God watches over us, and like a Good Shepherd. He protects us from danger. In the Book of Samuel, David plans to do a great service for God, no less than to build a beautiful temple as a house of prayer. King David was an achiever who had accomplished a great deal. Yet Nathan says that God did not want the king to build the Temple. For some reasons this is not what God wanted. Instead he promised David an everlasting house and kingdom. God wanted David to concentrate on building up a people rather than a temple made from stones. It was the flesh and blood of human beings who must be far more important than the great monuments we erect. It was God who would do something for David; whereby David’s descendants would lead God’s people into the future. David had to let go of his great plans and learn to let God lead the course of his life. The heart of the good news is that God is a gracious God who wants to give us all things. The greatest act of God for us is in revealing the incarnation. The Incarnation is not building kingdoms as the Israelite people wanted it to be. They thought God would be present in kingdoms, in buildings, in grandeur, in conquering their enemies. But God really wanted to be present among them in the flesh of human beings; not in kings and princes and in those who lord it over others, but in the simplicity of human flesh. As Saint Paul says in his epistle, ‘God who did not withhold his won Son, but gave him up for all of us, will also with him give us everything else!’ This is the special time of year when we allow God to be the God of abundant grace in our regard; it is a time when we come before him in our need and open ourselves to his gracious love and presence. St. Francis of Assisi was the son of a rich merchant, and he was assured of a comfortable future. However God spoke to him, asking him to build his church. At first, Francis thought God was asking him to repair the dilapidated church of San Damiano. Finally he realized that God was not asking him to repair buildings, but to restore God’s kingdom in human beings. It was the people
who mattered. So Francis began a life of complete poverty, simplicity and humility, devoting himself to serving the people by his example and by his preaching. In the same way, Mary was being asked to humble herself, to be God’s servant to let us know that God wanted to be present in the world in the flesh and blood of human beings. God was present in a special way in the human flesh of Mary, but he wanted all of us to give birth to God in our own time. Why did God choose Mary to be the mother of his Son? Why this particular woman in this small village at this particular time of human history? It was the mysterious freedom and preference of God. Yet, there is a difference between God’s choice of Mary and the choice any one of us might make of another.
God’s choice of Mary was not exclusive in that sense. In choosing Mary, he was choosing all of us. He chose Mary for all our sakes. God chose her to carry God’s Son on behalf of us all, because her future child was God’s gift to us all. That is why how Mary responded to God’s choice of her was not just a matter that concerned herself. It concerned us all. We all had a vested interest in how she responded. Her response would also be our response. In a sense we looked to her to make an appropriate response on behalf of us all to God’s choice of us.
The good news is that Mary did not let us down. Although initially disturbed and perplexed by the message, she eventually surrendered fully to that mysterious choice of God. Having been graced in this mysterious way, she responded wholeheartedly, “Let it be to me according to your word.” God freely chose her, and she in turn chose to place her freedom at God’s service. God’s choice of Mary, and her choice of God in response had the most wonderful consequences for all of us. She went on to sing, “the Almighty has done great things for me.” And because of her response to God’s choice, we can all sing, “the Almighty has done great things for us.” We have all been graced through Mary’s response to God’s choice of her.
During the pandemic, Pope Francis has reflected much on Joseph as he ‘experienced, amid the crisis, how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are surely shaping the decisive events of our history’. Pope Francis writes: ‘Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.’
Following Mary and Joseph into the Christmas event, let’s bring to the all too familiar the right mix of simplicity, sentiment, and hard thinking acknowledging that nothing is impossible for
God. Like Mary, may we have the faith to respond: ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’ No matter what mix of consolation and perplexity we may feel with such a response, we remember that it was that precise moment when the angel departed from Mary. Immediately turning attention from herself to another, Mary set off alone to assist her kinswoman Elizabeth. While busily preparing for Christmas, let’s focus on following the signs as did Zechariah, Mary and the shepherds, meeting the practical needs of others as did Mary and Joseph.
On the first Christmas Jesus came because Mary surrendered to God and said ‘yes.’ Will Jesus come to you this Christmas? Surrender your agenda, your will and your kingdom to God like Mary so that Jesus will have room to come to you this Christmas.
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38), which means belong to the Lord, body and soul.” We must belong to God, if we are to give birth to God’s Word in the World.
God bless. Have a blessed day.