HOMILY FOR FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Fr Jim Butler

“The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end”.


Now that David is King of a united country, with Jerusalem as the capital, he sets about building a house (a temple) for the Lord (1st Reading). He is considering a permanent structure to ‘house’ the Ark of the Covenant. But the reading shows us that David’s plans and God’s plan are at variance. Perhaps David couldn’t see the plan of God (usually we can’t). But the Lord pre-empted David’s plan, and instead it is the Lord who will build a dynasty for David – a dynasty that will last for ever. But when Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 BC, it seemed that this promise might never be fulfilled. But still, the hope always remained that a Messiah would come from the House of David. And this expectation was fulfilled many years later when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Redeemer, who (through Joseph) would be of the line of David. And notice, here Gabriel’s words echo the words of God’s promise to David.


And therein lies the origin of the Christmas story – a story that we are all familiar with from our earliest childhood. No doubt we all remember the stories of the Crib and the Baby Jesus. But, of course, the Christmas stories are not really about a baby – they are about the person of Christ. To misunderstand that is to miss the essential point of the whole Christmas message.


So, on this final Sunday before Christmas, we need to go right to the heart of the Christmas story. And when we do, we are struck by the utter simplicity of its message. And today’s Gospel helps to take us there. Long ago, in a remote corner of this earth, God broke into our world through the voice of an angel. Mary didn’t realise it at the time, but God had chosen her for a very special purpose. In short, an angel spoke, a young woman believed, and (as a result) the world was changed forever.


Nazareth was a poor place then, and it is a poor place now. It is a lonely town in the hills, with little enough to recommend it. But finding a home for God is never an easy business. Allowing God to enter humanity is not something that is bland or innocuous. In the world in which we live today, God constantly seeks to break into our lives. God constantly tries to be present to humanity but is often exiled by the human tendency to want to forget him and just get on with living. And yet, when he knocks on the door and asks us (simply) to listen, we can often find a courage and a grace that we mightn’t have realised was there in the poverty of our hearts. And (let us remember) this is exactly how Mary responded when visited by the angel.


As we draw ever nearer to the celebration of Christ’s birth, we enter into the mystery of our ‘hands-on’ God. This is the God who literally ‘got down and dirty’. This is the God who knew the perfect gift for humanity. In an obscure stable in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, as the result of an angel speaking and a young woman believing, the world was forever changed. But if God can come to a remote and poor place to ask a young woman to listen to him and let him enter into her life, then surely in these dark and weary pandemic days, when life is running thin for so many people, we too can open the doors of our hearts and homes and make room for Christ this Christmas.


Remember, David couldn’t understand the plans that God outlined in today’s 1st Reading. And surely, at 16 years of age, Mary couldn’t have fully comprehended what the message of the angel entailed. Very often we are equally confused. But just like David and Mary, we too are asked to trust and to be willing servants.

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