Fourth Sunday of Advent
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen – Livestreamed & T.V. Broadcast
December 19, 2020
An old Christmas song tells us, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”. For many of you, Christmas is indeed a wonderful time of year, especially if you have children and grandchildren. Many of us enjoy Christmas concerts, lessons and carols, holiday parties and gatherings, along with shopping, gift-giving and much more. But, of course, this year is different. Much of that is dialed back, severely so. This year, we might feel as though the Grinch really did manage to steal Christmas!
Let us also not forget that, for many, Christmas is always a difficult time of year. Paradoxically, Christmas cheer has an opposite effect in many minds and hearts. For them, it is a time of year when troubles are set in sharp relief, when loneliness assails, and when guilt and betrayal loom large. For more than a few, Christmas is not, “the most wonderful time of the year”.
Perhaps, however, the Fourth Sunday of Advent has something important to say, both to those who are disappointed in the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, as well as to those who are ordinarily saddened at this time of year. For indeed, in a world that is often ephemeral and fickle, we may all find ourselves searching for something solid on which to base our lives, or better, for someone who is utterly faithful, a “Rock” on whom we can always count. Happily, today’s Scripture readings proclaim God’s rock-like fidelity to his promises; they recount God’s faithfulness to his covenant from generation to generation; they sing of God’s kindness and love that do not fade with the passage of time, but rather continue to shine as brightly as ever, in our times no less than before. Let us seek and find this truth, beginning with today’s reading from II Samuel.
Second Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
In that reading, we meet King David at the high point of his career. David had managed to vanquish his enemies, consolidate his power, and now reigned over his kingdom in relative peace and stability. Having settled into his palace of cedar and stone, King David realized that God’s dwelling place, the Ark of the Covenant, still dwelt in a humble tent. So, David shared with the prophet Nathan his intention to build a temple for the Lord.
Yet, even as David intended to build a house for the Lord, Nathan revealed that the Lord would establish a house for David – not a mansion or a palace, but rather what we might call a dynasty. The Lord promised David that he would raise up an heir to follow him and that his kingdom would be made firm forever. As a matter of historical record, however, David’s Kingdom was not “firm forever”. It suffered divisions, setbacks, and defeats, so much so, that eventually no one from the house of David was reigning over Israel. This may leave us to wonder about God’s much-vaunted fidelity to his promises …
…That is, until we turn to today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, where it says that, “[t]he Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David.” Somehow, through thick and thin, as St. Matthew recounts in his genealogy, the house of David continued to exist – through wars, plagues, drought, and famine; and through the indignity of the Babylonian exile and domination by foreign powers. St. Luke makes a point of saying that Joseph was “of the house of David” because he wanted us to understand that God was faithful to his promise to David – not in earthly terms, in a way that was unimaginably wondrous. For, the Savior – the Incarnate Son of God – would be born into the house of David, and ‘of his Kingdom there would be no end!’
Lest somehow we overlook the wondrous fidelity of the God who “swore to David” that he would “establish [his] throne for all generations” – St. Luke highlights God’s fidelity in his portrayal of the mystery of the Annunciation. Here, the marvelous trust of the Virgin Mary in God’s faithfulness shines forth. In that pivotal moment of salvation history, the Angel addressed Mary as “full of grace”, and announced that by the Holy Spirit Mary would conceive a child, ‘who would be great and would be called the Son of the Most High,’ the child upon whom God would bestow “the throne of David his father”. In short, Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to be the Mother of God’s Son, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, to be born “of the house of David”.
For all her wonderment and questions, Mary never had the slightest doubt about God’s abounding fidelity to his promises. Preserved from the stain of original sin, consecrated entirely to the Lord, and attuned to the living Word of God – Mary lived in hope and understood well that, in the fullness of time, God would fulfill his promise to redeem his people, to grant mercy to sinners, and to set aright a world disordered and broken. Although taken aback by the Angel’s greeting and his announcement, Mary believed that she would indeed conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit and that God, in his faithfulness, would support her in her utterly unique vocation. Thus, she uttered the words upon which the history of the world hinges: “… I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word!” …
And, as if to re-focus our eyes on the events recounted in II Samuel & Luke’s Gospel, St. Paul, in the concluding verses of his Letter to the Romans, offers a word of praise to the God ‘who can strengthen us’ when we are weary and wavering. The strength God provides for us is neither ephemeral nor fickle, quite the contrary. No, the strength God provides springs from the mystery of his own inner life, wherein he resolved in his mercy to redeem the world he had created in love. Thus, God the Father sent his only begotten Son into the world as Savior and Messiah. When, in the grace of the Holy Spirit, we take to heart the writings of the prophets and the essential message of the Gospel, then, we are amazed and heartened at the greatness and fidelity of God’s love for us. We will often find that God fulfills his promise of mercy to us, not necessarily in the precise ways we have asked for, but, as he did with David, in ways that more profound and wondrous – for example, the unexpected blessings that come to us in the midst of adversity. What’s more, by opening our hearts to the Scriptures and by sharing in the sacramental life of the Church, we tap into the greatness and fidelity of God’s love for us. As we do so, God gives us the grace to respond to his loving initiatives on our behalf with “the obedience of faith”, a loving, trusting fidelity, not unlike that of Mary.
Believing and tapping into God’s utterly faithful love is not just a way to cope with our problems or to deal with our sorrows – it is much more than that. Rather, it is the way to reorient our lives towards an unfailing hope, a hope that accompanies faith in Jesus Christ, who faithfully accomplished his Father’s will to save us and to save the world from the ravages of sin. God now asks us to be faithful to him, to our Church, and to one another. But the fidelity God asks of us, even in these difficult times, pales in comparison to his fidelity to us and to his promises, from age to age and from year to year. Let this be our strength, let this be our joy, as the feast of Christmas approaches, and may God bless us and keep us always in his love!