Sunday, December 18, 2011

Year B Fourth Sunday of Advent

Readings: 2 Sam. 7:1-5.8b-12.14a.16; Ps. 89:2—5.27.29; Rom. 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Our readings for today cascade downward in a very useful sequence. Hence, I think we are best-served by simply looking at the Scriptures, seeing how they fit together in order to discern what God is saying to us as we enter the final week of Advent. In our first reading, taken from Second Samuel, we hear about King David, who, after vanquishing Israel’s foes and firmly establishing a united kingdom consisting of all the tribes of Israel, with their capital in Jerusalem, worries out loud that while he, the king of God’s people, dwells in a palace, the Ark of the Covenant, which was God’s presence among the chosen people, continued to be housed in a tent. The “tent” to which David refers was a portable tabernacle like the one built during Israel’s exodus from Egypt and carried around with them during their forty year sojourn to the promised land, which they now largely possessed and inhabited. This prompts David to tell Nathan, at least to hint to the prophet, that he would like to build a magnificent palace in which to place the Ark. In other words, he speaks of a plan to build a temple.

Nathan, who as we know from the Bathsheba incident, was no mere yes man, initially thinks the king’s idea is a good one and says to David, “Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you” (2 Sam. 7:3). But then Nathan has a dream with a message from God for King David. God asks David through Nathan, “Should you build me a house to dwell in?” (2 Sam 7:5) The LORD then recounts to Nathan, so that the prophet can remind David, of all that God has done for David from the time he was a humble shepherd called by God to lead Israel by the prophet Samuel, to where David is now (2 Sam. 7:8-11). David is also reminded that God has never asked Israel to build Him a permanent dwelling, “a house of cedar” (2 Sam. 7:7). The point of the dream is that God does not want David to build a temple. Rather, God will make of David a house, that is, a kingdom, which will last forever. God relays to David through Nathan that after David’s death, God
will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever (2 Sam. 7:12.14a.16)
This is followed in the lectionary by our Psalm, in which God is praised for His goodness and fidelity to His promises, like the promise made to David in our first reading: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant: Forever will I confirm your posterity and establish your throne for all generations” (Ps. 89:4-5).

We now move briefly to our New Testament reading, taken from the very end of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, in which passage the apostle identifies Jesus Christ as “the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages,” who is now “made known to all nations” in order “to bring about the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:25-26).

Ark of the Covenant Monstrance at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, Chicago

Before looking more closely at our Gospel reading for today, it is important to note that Tradition hands on to us that the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we revere in an especially enthusiastic way during the Advent season, is the new Ark of the Covenant. The original Ark, the one that David wanted to build a temple for, the one for which Indiana Jones searched, held three items: the stone tablets on which the 10 Commandments were written, some manna God provided to feed the Israelites during their forty years in the desert, and Aaron’s rod, the one that, though detached from the plant and its root system, re-sprouted, thus becoming a self-sufficient source of life. The womb of Mary, whom we revere as Theotokos- God-bearer, or, more commonly, as the Mother of God, held Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh (John 1:14), the Bread of Life (John 6:35), and the True Vine whose branches we are (John 15:5), the very One whom St. John tells us “pitched his tent among us” (John 1:14).

There are many parallels between the Annunciation as conveyed to us in our Gospel today and the Ark of the Covenant, beginning with Gabriel’s use of the word “overshadow” in reference to Mary conceiving God’s Son (Luke 1:35). This word is significant because it is used in reference to the cherubim “overshadowing” the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was made with pure gold (Exodus 4ff), but Mary, whose Immaculate Conception we affirmed and celebrated a little more than a week ago, was even purer and more beautiful. There are many more typological parallels that have been identified regarding the Blessed Virgin as the new Ark of the Covenant.

So if Jesus is “The Word Made Flesh,” then Mary is “The Ark Made Flesh,” the house God promised David He would establish forever. Yes, Jesus is present here in the tabernacle, but as a result of this Eucharist, He is just as present in you and me. This is the great scandal of the Incarnation: that Christ, the everlasting God, is conceived in the womb of a humble virgin, a marginal person who belonged, at least in terms of the ancient Roman Empire, to a marginal, if trouble-making, people. During our profession of the Creed, just before we say the words, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man,” we bow in awe. The scandal doesn’t stop there. While Jesus is present here in the tabernacle, but as a result of this Eucharist, He is just as present in you and me. Like Mary, we are to be temples of God’s presence in and for the world. The Son of God, in this very Eucharist, makes Himself present in us by the power of the Holy Spirit! When we say "Amen" to the words "the body of Christ" and "the blood of Christ," like the Blessed Virgin, who is our model of faith, we say "Yes" to God, to serving Him, to cooperating in bringing about His kingdom.

In his homily for Midnight Mass in 2006, Pope Benedict reminded us that “God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us.” "God," the Holy Father continued, “does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby – defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness." In the womb of the Virgin of Nazareth and in this Eucharist God becomes small so that we are able to grasp him, to welcome him, and to love him. As we enter into this last week of Advent, let us contemplate this great mystery. One of the best ways of doing this is by praying and meditating upon the seven “O Antiphons,” the first of which made its annual appearance in Evening Prayer last night: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

1 comment:

  1. I could not get to Mass yesterday as I was caring for a sick child in the house. Thank you for this beautiful homily which was much more than sufficient for having missed the wondrous readings of this Sunday.

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