“May it be done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Fourth Sunday of Advent
2 Sam 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Ps 89; Rom 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
If Advent serves as a kind of overture for the full symphony of the Gospel, its themes descend from the powerful announcements of the prophets about God’s intentions to the near silence of the divine entry into Creation. The Word slips into history at the remotest edge of the empire, marginal to Jerusalem itself, to Galilee of the Gentiles, to a hill country hamlet, to a teenage girl on whose consent hangs the salvation of the world.
Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel is an exquisite duet between divine courtesy and human freedom. The angel’s proposal moves from greeting and reassurance to questions and explanation. Mary is already full of grace and crosses the threshold into a faith deep enough to hold the unknown implications of her consent. The Incarnation is a whisper as the Spirit hovers, the virgin becomes a mother and human hope receives a new destiny.
The question of God’s precise location in the world was an old one, quarreled over by Israel and its pagan neighbors, each promoting their shrines and temples as authentic. The tent in the desert that had housed Yahweh, destroyer of the gods of Egypt, would be replaced by David’s plan to build a grand temple in Jerusalem. But the prophet Nathan corrects him, for no place can contain God, but then he promises divine accompaniment to his lineage, his house and throne forever.
Promise became reality in the person of Jesus, born of the house of David in Bethlehem, Word Incarnate and Son of God. The mystery of his birth will defy forever the claims religion makes to contain God’s presence and authority. Instead, the unfathomable humility of God will continue in Jesus’ message that the first shall be last and the last first. He arrives in obscurity, unwelcome and hunted by a jealous king. His departure from this world in death will provide no location for shrine or temple. He leaves an empty tomb instead and angels who proclaim that he has disappeared into history and the world and is now hiding in the poor, the least and last of humanity he declares are his brothers and sisters.
Like every overture, the beginning of this symphony echoes its end. Christmas is inseparable from Easter. The Incarnation is a preview of the Resurrection. Jesus is now God with us forever, calling us to be temples of the Holy Spirit, houses of hospitality, thrones of grace everywhere. Like Mary, we must pray to understand what we are getting into at Christmas when we welcome angels and say yes to the story that now culminates in us. The royal lineage includes us. The Word we have listened to during Advent is the Word that becomes flesh in us at Christmas. All that is needed to continue the story is our consent, echoing Mary: “May it be done unto me according to your word.”