December 21, 2014 –– 4th Sunday of Advent
2 Samuel 7:1–5, 8b–12, 14a, 16 / Romans 16:25–27 / Luke 1:26–38
God At Work
Prehistory is a term used for human history in the period before recorded events. This means we can give a reasonably firm date for Abraham, but not for Adam and Eve. Still, if we take Scripture seriously––the Church does, and so do I––we can believe that some particular things happened in prehistory even if we cannot know all the details we might wish.
One thing that happened long ago is a horrible decision by our first human parents. God created them to love him, but love always means a choice––and our first parents made the wrong choice. They chose to say no to God and yes to a spirit of disobedience that has infected our world ever since. We have awful reminders of this every day (if we have the faith and insight to connect the dots). This past week a man in eastern Pennsylvania went on a murderous rage and killed his ex-wife and several members of her family. In world news, the Taliban in Pakistan killed 148 children plus others at a school. But the news doesn’t have to be so dramatic or gory; every time we hear of a “natural” death or hear about abuse and addiction, we are being brought face to face with what it means to live in a world that is in rebellion against God. It would be a hopeless situation for all of us… except God gave a special promise way back in prehistory. After confronting the man and woman with their disobedience, God speaks of someone in the future––the seed of a woman–– who will crush the head of the serpent who had tempted the woman (in Genesis 3:15). This is called the protoevangelium, or the “first gospel.”
We in the Church take so much for granted. We hear the stories all of our lives. Some may think of it as being force-fed. There is a danger that we resist or, perhaps worse, get inoculated with just enough “religion” that it never takes good root in our lives. Then we wonder why, even in the Church, our lives are ripped by much of the same horrible stuff in the world around us: the abuse, the addictions, the selfishness, the desperate grabbing for a bit of pleasure and happiness.
As we enter the closing days of Advent, we need to know that the Christmas we are waiting for is real! One of the most important things we can do is recognize that we need it. We don’t need “Christmas” as it is often popularized. It doesn’t matter if our celebration matches a Currier & Ives print or follows the script of a favorite holiday movie. We do not so much need Happy Holidays as we need a real Christmas.
Just as God gave a special promise in prehistory, he has fulfilled it in true history. The readings for today all but shout this out. When God gave his promise to King David––your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me––he was not just being “nice” to David. God was taking a next step in what he had been doing since that first promise when “history” was still unable to be defined. Then the biggest shout of all came from the Archangel Gabriel to a young virgin girl named Mary. St Paul said it this way to the early Roman Christians: the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested….
God sent the angel Gabriel to give Mary a singularly unique message: Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. This was God’s historical promise to David coming true. This was God’s prehistorical promise to Eve coming true. There is a way back to the love that God offered us in the very beginning.
We cannot love as we ought. We cannot always love even as much as we ourselves might desire.
We cannot fix this world by ourselves. We cannot guarantee security, much less happiness, for ourselves and those we love.
We cannot even understand all the ramifications of the revelation of the mystery that has been given through the Scriptures and the Church. Still, we understand far more than Eve did when the first promise was given. We understand more than David did, though he was a man after [God’s] own heart (Acts 13:22). Incredibly, we understand more than Mary did when the angel first gave her this message. We have the advantage of hindsight within the Church.
What shall we do with what we do understand? Are we ready to say to our Lord:
I don’t always understand all the implications of my faith, but I want to….
I don’t know to respond to the hard things in my life and in this world, but I want to…
I don’t how to love as I should, but I want to….
What I hope you will remember as we come to the glory of Christmas is that God has been at work for our salvation for a long, long time. In the womb of the Virgin Mary God took on our humanity and has come into our world. Hear the parting words of the angel: nothing will be impossible for God.
God will work in your life when you invite him. He will help you understand. He will help you respond to this world with grace. He will help you love.
God has even given us the ultimate model of prayer to open the door to all that Christmas means. We are to pray with Mary: May it be done to me according to your word. Pray that from your heart, and see what God will do.