On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we are privy to two dialogues and one instruction.
First, an ancient dialogue between a king and a prophet.
King David wonders aloud if he should build a temple – something grander and more appropriate than a tent – to house the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred scrolls that lay out the relationship between Yahweh and the Jewish people. Initially, the prophet Nathan supports King David’s temple-building idea. But that night God gives Nathan a different message to deliver. Namely, that God, not David, is in charge of the covenant; hence God, not David, will choose the time and manner of establishing “a house” and choosing an “heir”. “I will be a father” to your heir, God says, “and he shall be a son to me.”
In the second reading, Paul the missionary writes a letter, instructing the Christian community in Rome, now composed of Gentiles and Jews. Some 25 years after Jesus’s Resurrection, Paul explains that the covenant has been fulfilled through Jesus, an heir of David. Paul’s viewpoint is present: the covenant fulfilled in our lifetime. A Jesus resurrected, the people may have wondered– Is this the fulfillment?
That tough question is still being addressed in the Gospel of Luke in a dialogue between a Jewish teenager, Mary, and an angel. Mary is perplexed by the angel’s greeting, that she is “full of grace” and that “the Lord” is with her. Then the shocking string of verbs, as though Mary is merely watching her future unfold: “You will” …“conceive, bear a son, name him Jesus, he will be “son of the Most High….” “God will give this child “David’s throne,” and he will “rule forever.” An obvious allusion to our first reading: God’s message through Nathan to David. But it’s all still prophecy. Because Mary has yet to speak.
She asks one telling question, “How?” since she is a virgin. Answer: “The power of the Most High God will overshadow you (a reference to God’s Spirit hovering over the waters at Creation). Therefore the child will be called …son of God.” Again this whole dialogue fits the Gospel writer’s understanding of covenant/fulfillment.
This conversation was not, of course, recorded or videoed. No witnesses. Yet in Luke’s telling, Mary, at age 12 or 13, is mature enough to see herself as “handmaid of the Lord.” She freely consents: “May it be done….” she says. With that she takes on a crucial role in God’s cosmic drama. Not merely to conceive Jesus, notice that. But to raise him, to recognize God in him (so he can understand himself), and at the cross to stand before him as both mother and disciple.
In her wonderful book In Search of Mary: the Woman and the Symbol, Sally Cunneen describes Mary as “a human woman” and “a feminine symbol of the divine.” Mary, she writes, “closes the gap between the ordinary and the holy.” Isn’t that what each of us is called to do?
We believe that the promise/fulfillment process continues. God lives among us and within us here and now. Like Mary, we are called to be God-bearers, to make God’s compassion and justice real and present in our world. How? Answering that question requires discernment, as we discover what gifts God has given us and how best to use them. But all the basics - in the Sermon on the Mount or from Jesus’ own works of mercy, justice, and community-building – are clear enough. We need to consent and persist….
Karen Sue Smith
Karen Sue Smith
Karen Sue Smith is a retired writer and editor with nearly 30 years of experience working in the Catholic press. She served in full time capacities as editorial director at America Magazine; editor of CHURCH Magazine from National Pastoral Life Center; and associate editor at Commonweal Magazine. She also has served part-time as editor and columnist at Ahead Magazine in the Philippines; Theological consultant for the Catholic Health Association, and at the Pastoral Liturgy Center at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY.
Karen Sue earned her Master of Divinity at Harvard University and a Master of Arts in Theology at the University of Notre Dame.
The second of three volumes from the Catholic Women Preach project of FutureChurch offers homilies for each Sunday and holy days of the liturgical year by Catholic women from around the world. The first volume for Cycle A received awards for best book on Liturgy from both the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Catholic Media Association.
“Catholic Women Preach is one of the more inspiring collection of homilies available today. Based on the deep spirituality and insights of the various women authors, the homilies are solidly based on the scriptures and offer refreshing and engaging insights for homilists and listeners. The feminine perspective has long been absent in the preached word, and its inclusion in this work offers a long overdue and pastorally necessary resource for the liturgical life of the Church.” - Catholic Media Association
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