Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 20, 2020
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8B-12, 14a-16
Psalm 89: 2-5, 27, 29
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

Yesterday at Mass, we proclaimed the section of Luke’s Gospel that immediately precedes the Gospel reading that we proclaim today, the Annunciation to Zachariah that his wife Elizabeth is to conceive in her advanced age and bear a son, John the Baptist.

Zachariah was unable to speak for the entire time of Elizabeth’s pregnancy after he had experienced the vision of the Archangel Gabriel. The silence of Zachariah was not just a gift that the Lord gave to his wife Elizabeth to assist her in what would undoubtedly be a difficult pregnancy at her advanced age. Zachariah required the gift of silence to accept and to make sense of the vision of God’s plans that he had received from the Archangel Gabriel. The silence of Zachariah also helped Zachariah to prepare for his fatherhood of John the Baptist. As the father of John the Baptist, Zachariah would be responsible for preparing John to serve God as a prophet preparing the way of Jesus by calling people to repentance and by living a lifestyle of radical austerity.

This Sunday, we hear the next section of Luke’s Gospel that tells the story of the Archangel Gabriel carrying God’s call to the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the Mother of His Son, Jesus Christ. The response of Mary is slightly different than that of Zachariah. Zachariah asks Gabriel a question, “How will I know this is so?” It is a question that seeks a demonstrable and almost scientific knowledge to verify and prove God’s ways before Zechariah can trust God. On the contrary, Mary simply accepts God’s call and reveals Her wisdom in trusting God. Zachariah is instead focusing upon himself and the power that comes with knowledge as if the message of God is separable from God. So, Zachariah requires silence to enter more deeply into the mystery of his vocation by entering more deeply into the mystery of God.

We might be tempted in considering only ourselves when discerning our vocation from God. Like Zachariah, we might ask, “How will I know this? How will this change my plans?  What does this mean for me? What will others think of me?” The Blessed Virgin Mary shows us the way of keeping our focus on God who calls us to ask humbly of Him, “How can this be?” In so doing, we grow more deeply in love with God who has loved us first.

There is a difference between “working for God” and “doing God’s work.” In our first reading, we hear of King David’s desires to build a great structure for the Lord’s dwelling, not so much for the Lord’s glory as much as to justify the opulence of his own surroundings. Instead of being converted in his heart to live more fittingly to the ordered designs of the Lord as His anointed servant, David attempts to transform the dwelling of the Ark to be more like his own palace. He attempts to fit God into his plans. David is working for God.

The Lord, speaking through Nathan calls David back into right relationship not only with the Lord but also with the People of Israel. The Lord’s desire for His anointed and chosen is never directed exclusively for the Lord’s own pleasure; rather it is directed always for service to the salvation of God’s People, the Chosen People of the Old and New Covenants.

By answering God with the words, “Thy will be done,” Mary places herself in the service of doing God’s work in His plan of salvation. With Mary’s willing consent, God finally completes His promise to David and His own plan of salvation for the world. The Blessed Virgin Mary’s humility is stronger than David’s pride. The Blessed Virgin Mary’s confidence in God’s grace surpasses David’s reliance on his own abilities. The Blessed Virgin Mary’s willingness places her at the heart of God’s Kingdom because immediately after her acceptance of God’s will, she leaves to assist Elizabeth in her own challenging pregnancy. Service to those in need follows acceptance of God’s will and of our place in God’s plans. God really does ask us something in giving of ourselves and in changing our expectations we have for our own lives. One can never follow the call of the Lord with half measures as a bystander or spectator, especially when the Lord reveals Himself fully as Emmanuel — God is with us.

God always calls us out of love not out of power. A call from God costs us something. It costs us the price of love. In calling us, God tells us that He loves us and asks us to love Him in return. Love shows itself in deeds not simply in words. This is why Advent prepares us for the coming of Christ — God’s Word made flesh — that His Word might show Himself in His deeds of love. The Incarnate Word’s deeds include making Himself small enough to be placed in a manger and lovingly obedient enough to be nailed on a cross.

We began Advent with the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus.” The Lord Jesus has answered our prayer with the command “Go to Bethlehem.” That is where He has come. Our response made in love to His call is to go to Bethlehem. Our response made in love is to approach the unapproachable God who has made Himself little to be embraced in our weakness. Our response made in love is to enter where He has made room for us, the place where we had made no room for Him. Our response made in love is to enter willingly into His plans that begin with Mary’s “yes,” that enlighten and warm the dark and musty manger, that accept the cross, and that pass through the empty tomb.

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