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Advent 4 (B)
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Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle B

1. II Samuel 7, 1-5, 8-12, 14 and 16

  • The selected verses I hear begin with a tidy story, about the good intentions of an upright man.  Here I am, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!  So the court prophet blesses his proposal.  Go, do it, for the Lord is with you. 
  • Then Nathan has second thoughts.  God speaks through him, not exactly to turn down the king’s proposal.  But David is being reminded who’s who.  With this oracle God changes our perspective, raises our expectations.  It was I who took you from the pasture.  I have been with you.  I will fix a place for my people Israel.  God lays down no conditions here.  David did not earn this promise.
  • I need to transform my cosmology, my approach to time.  For God is ahead of us – that is the meaning of Advent.  God is final master of what is and what will be.  In the preamble to our nation’s constitution it says: “Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”  But for all our good faith and efforts we cannot guarantee that our descendants will inherit or even respect these blessings.
  • God is the bestower of blessings and promises.  If David wants to build a dwelling place for God, God is going to return the favor even more generously.  The Lord will establish a house – that is, a dynasty that shall endure forever before me. 
  • The reading looks ahead to the Gospel, where the angel announces another eternal kingdom, fulfilled in Mary’s child.  Here the promise reads: Your kingdom shall endure forever before me.
  • Climax: The Lord will establish a house for you.  It begins from here and builds to the end of the reading.
  • Message for our assembly: Here we are in Advent, where we celebrate the times and the seasons, remembering in faith that we are on the verge of really great events, awaiting the final days when God takes charge.  We are flooded with new calendars for our latest year.  Are we agile enough to adapt to God’s calendar? 
  • I will challenge myself: to echo the words of assurance that I hear, to tell my listeners that this is the way God favors his children.

 

2. Romans 16, 25-27

  • It is the final part of Romans that I hear.  It is also one of the apostle’s long sentences that will be very short and out of people’s live recollection unless I read it with understanding.  Just because the liturgy commission decided for its own reasons to leave it as one sentence does not mean that I have to read it as such.
  • For example, I think two substantial pauses are necessary, one after proclamation of Jesus Christ, and another after obedience of faith.  One or two lesser pauses would help people catch up to the cosmic imaging the apostle gives us: mystery kept secret for long ages, manifested through the prophetic writings and made known to all nations.  We need to stretch our sense of time and place, to achieve a time that embraces all times and a place that contains all places.
  • To him who can strengthen you.  God is glorified when we realize our full strength (in our weakness, too, as the apostle reminded us in another place), when the good news is proclaimed and made known to all nations.  
  • My gospel is the proclamation of Jesus Christ.  And so the word ‘and’ between ‘gospel’ and ‘proclamation’ is superfluous.  I will pay it little attention.
  • Listen to all the words that refer to proclamation: revelation, manifestation, making known.  This reading presumes that God proclaims fully and we participate in it. 
  • Central point: The passage is a doxology.  This is clear in the final phrase, and I will build my acclamation throughout until I reach the end.  To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be glory forever and ever. 
  • The message for our assembly: We are participants in spreading the gospel.  Members from many nations are listening to me today, and they will play a large part in making the revelation known to all nations.  If not us, who will do it?
  • I will challenge myself: To turn this unnecessarily complex literal translation into a crisp set of marching orders for our church.

 

Gospel. Luke 1, 26-38

  • We hear the story of the Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary at least once a year in our weekly masses, and more often when we pray the rosary.  What can I do to make our assembly listen and plumb the beauty of the story once more?
  • I can begin with Gabriel, the angel with the sounding trumpet identified in the Book of Daniel with the decisive time of God’s final revelation.  Mary was greatly troubled – did she react this way because she recognized Gabriel?
  • The angel was sent from God to visit a young woman engaged but before her childbearing time was to begin.  So Mary is found outside the expected pattern of woman’s fecundity, as were Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth, your relative. 
  • The angel visits a town in the provinces, far from Judea and the holy city.  That is another reason she may be surprised (a better word than troubled?), by living away from the public eye.  Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima were such places.
  • Luke intends here to explain something about Jesus.  As divine, he must not be revealed as such only in his adult years when visionaries like John the Baptist discovered him.  People could have known the truth from the beginning of his infancy, even earlier (as we believe the prophets did).  They only needed to listen and look, as Mary did.  She pondered what sort of greeting this could be. 
  • You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.  I remember that in ancient times males were thought to beget and females considered as recipients and bearers of the seed.
  • The angel does not request.  It will take place:  You will conceive.  By the Lord has this been done.  And people accept the invitation despite their unfitness. 
  • Those who have fixed the present text may let their nostalgia for ‘timeless wordings’ cloud their sense of what we receive and treasure.  I am not taken in.  All these ‘beholds’ and ‘handmaids’ are throwbacks that insult our own ability to express and sing the Lord of all history.  I do not emphasize any of these archaisms, but I do take my time around them.  Mary is not the submissive servant girl but the willing partner, the instrument of God.
  • Climax: Nothing will be impossible for God.  Mary knows this.  Do we?
  • Message for our assembly: Will we recognize that Jesus is fully man and fully divine, ruling over the house of Jacob forever?  A child is born to us!
  • I will challenge myself: To make the name of Nazareth ring in our hearts.  This birth has eternal implications. 

Word to Eucharist: While I process today as a sinner among sinners in need of God's grace in Christ, let me picture all the processions of past and present as we await the coming of the Lord.

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