Sunday, December 18, 2011
Homily for Fourth Sunday of Advent (longer form)
Today's message is that we, like Mary and David, are asked to make room for God in our lives, and by doing so, we extend our love - love that we did not know we had to others. It surprises us and it wholly pleases us. We enjoy good relations when we live out of this grace.
We contemplate King David sitting in comfort and splendor in his finely appointed palace that was just built to honor him. He subdued his neighboring enemies and built Israel into a kingdom that finally takes its place among nations. The new sturdy home was meant to give him lasting security where he can recline without worry because of his many diplomatic and military accomplishments. Instead of taking pleasure in his new abode, he immediately thinks about the discomfort God must experience for being housed within a flimsy tent.
David's lament shows his compassion for God. He realizes that the comforts of this world are fleeting and that the transitory aspects of life cannot bring anyone ultimate happiness and satisfaction. He is moved to build a better, more sturdy home for God because God is the cause of his success.
Somehow, when we experience abundance, we instinctively share our good fortune with others who have less than we do. We are never content with excesses when others go without. Fortunately, our conscience makes amends to alleviate the plight of others and we become more sensitive to our responsibility for others.
David wants to set things right with God and since he has considerable power and influence, he unilaterally decides what he will do for God other - without even asking. Everyone, even God, needs freedom to accept generosity or to declare what one wants. Too often, those who are influential and powerful think they know what a less fortunate person wants and needs and sets out to provide it for them. Everyone needs to be seen and heard. A greater injustice is perpetuated when one's free will is overlooked. In David's case, God needs the space to speak.
God turns the table on David. God is not asking for a better residence; David merely wants something better for him. God tells David, "Mind your business. Enjoy what I have given you because it is through your descendants that the Messiah will come. Rest secure in my providence." God will exalt David's house and will establish it as one that will withstand the challenges over time. David has to realize that this favor is not brought about through his accomplishments, David's power comes from God.
We then hear of Luke's announcement that the plan formed long ago by God is being realized. David's house will remain strong because Mary's son will be brought up within the Davidic tradition and through it the world's salvation will come. Notice the way God and the angel Gabriel gently use their influence and give space to others so God's will can be heard, respected, and integrated.
Contemplate, if you will, what it was like for Gabriel when the Trinitarian God summoned him and told him of the divine plan to bring salvation to the world. I wonder what God was feeling as God realized, "this is finally the moment." I can imagine God holding himself steady with a vulnerable excitement. Good news is to be shared and I suspect even God was exploding interiorly in happiness.
Did Gabriel wonder why, of all the angels, he was singled out for this special role? I bet Gabriel was anxious for the meeting with God and it increased when God began the conversation. God must have eased his fears and calmed him down to receive the news of this long-hoped for salvific plan. He was probably blown away when he heard God speak of his vision for the world. Most dear to him is that he comes to know of God's heartfelt compassion for the peoples of the world. It must take Gabriel a while to digest all this with emotions running sky-high in knowledge that God is doing something extraordinary. The universe has groaned in expectation long enough because it sees how far the people have moved away from God. Now this happy day is drawing close.
I'm sure Gabriel needed time to figure out the ways he would approach the young girl from Palestine and tell her the tremendous news. He surely did not want to come on too strong. God never acts with force or violence. Gabriel must have approached her successively and with care so that she would have been familiar with him. Otherwise, the news might be too awe-invoking. After all, she is still just a young woman.
With great sensitivity, he found a particular way to approach her and had an initial conversation to break the ice. He needed courage because a false step could ruin everything. He had to master words and feelings and empathy in order to be with this girl. Once the conversation ended, he must have departed in a way that provided her with consolation and courage. I imagine that he was deeply invested in her answer and that he watched over her after she became pregnant, especially as she felt alone among her human companions. I reckon that he stayed close for a while because he cared for her and for the child who was being formed. He worried about them and Joseph, who he would soon visit. Gabriel's job was not finished. More announcing soon will be done. More hearts need to be opened. God needs more space to dwell among us.
These next few days the pace of the wondrous events of the nativity story speeds up. It is as if we too are participating in and experiencing the labor as we approach the day. Pairing the stories of King David and Mary paints a perspective for us that shows God is always at work for our salvation. These stories, like a love letter, show God's deep yearning for us with intimate concern for our well-being. It reveals a great love story - the love God has for us- and the lengths God will go to bring us back. The story reminds us to find ways to give God space to be among us.
God has always been faithful and will always be. God will always recreate ways to come into our lives. As we realize this, we can let go of some of our fears and anxieties and place some of our turmoil in proper perspective. Fundamentally, all of us want to know if God cares for us and identifies with our chaotic suffering. We want intimate, first-hand knowledge of this. God's abiding love transforms our anxieties. This is why it is fascinating to watch this week unfold because God gently reaches into the deep recesses of our lives and builds his home among us. Be generous to God and let God be generous to you this week. God is near. God is near, indeed. Like Mary and King David, give God space to in your house to dwell with you. Your being will be like Gabriel. It will emerge as an outwardly exploding love for others. It will announce the glorious good news to many who are desperately waiting to hear it.