December 24th 2017. Fourth Sunday of Advent
Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...
She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. 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.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God’
‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.
Kieran’s summary . . . In the first reading on Sunday, David has a noble plan to build God a house. But God tells him that it is he who will build David a house! And the Lord says the same thing to each one of us: it is who begins and brings to fruition all the various projects in our lives. No matter how good or noble our ideas might be, they remain our ideas. It is essential that we seek to discern the initiatives that the Lord is making in our lives. Our task is to welcome the action of God in our existence on Sunday, not make our own confused plans and ask God then to bless them! The Gospel is the story of the Annunciation, and here we see that it is a virgin who conceives the life of God. The life of God is always conceived virginally! Only God can bring salvation. Only he can cross the chasm between the divinity and our flesh, and he does it at Christmas in the person of Jesus. When a young couple are trying to discern if they should get married, they need to reflect on whether their relationship had its beginning in some initiative of the Lord, some gift of God in their common story. When a young man is trying to discern if he should become a priest, he ought to reflect on whether it is the Lord who is the origin of his desire. If the plan originates in some need of his own, then it will be an initiative with solely human DNA from the beginning. Let all of us seek to discern the initiative of God in our lives and welcome it virginally. Virginity is not simply an ethical or physical category. It concerns the existential state of our relationship with God, of allowing him to be the origin of everything and having an attitude of openness and welcome towards what he is doing. The life of God can only come from him. It cannot be produced by us.
In the first reading David has a desire to build a house for God. But the Lord replies, “It is I who will build a house for you”. God says the same thing to each one of us. It is he, and only he, who can give us life. The things we build will come to nothing if they do not originate in the Lord
This Sunday’s Gospel is the celebrated passage of the Annunciation, often commented upon in the past from this microphone. This time our perspective on the text will be from the point of view of the first reading. There are two parts in the passage of the Annunciation: the first concerns the disturbing effect the announcement had on Mary, whilst the second is the Angel’s response to her question, “How will this come about?” In response to Mary’s first reaction, the angel says, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David’. This recalls the prophecy from Samuel 7 that appears in the first reading on Sunday. At this point in the career of King David, he has established a “house” for himself in the sense that he is secure and has conquered all his enemies. In response, generosity springs up in the heart of David. He knows that he has arrived at this point only because of the great benevolence and aid shown to him by the Lord. He says to himself, “How can it be that I live in a fine house whilst the Ark of God is kept in a tent? Why should the Lord be in a more precarious situation than me?” Nathan the prophet hears these words of David and is impressed. “That is a noble desire”, he tells the king. “Go ahead and do it and the Lord will be with you”. That night, however, Nathan receives a word form God to relate to David. “You, David, intend to build a house for me? It is I who will construct a house for you? Look at the sort of relationship we have! I have taken you from the pastures and been with you everywhere you have gone. I have destroyed your enemies but yet I am only at the beginning. I will make your name great among the powerful on earth. It is I who will construct a house for you!” The Lord says this to David but also says it to each one of us.
No matter how beautiful our plans are, only the plans of the Lord can bring salvation. Only he can cross the abyss between us and God.
What is the Annunciation, after all? We are at the threshold of Christmas and about to celebrate the encounter between human flesh and the divinity of God, this incredible encounter which we find in the body of Christ, in this child who is the bearer of heaven upon the earth, he who is glory in the highest heaven and becomes peace for people on earth. Where does all of this great story begin? David has a noble plan, but no matter how beautiful and noble our plans are, they cannot cross the abyss between us and God. Only the Lord himself can cross that chasm. Salvation, redemption from our sins, comes from God, it does not come from us. Our task is to welcome it, and we find all of this in the story of the young girl who is a virgin and who will conceive virginally.
The life of God can only be conceived virginally. In other words, it must begin from him and our job is simply to welcome it
Let us pay attention to this fact: the life of God can only be conceived virginally, it is not born from human seed. What does this mean? When we pursue our confused inspirations, or even those inspirations that are less confused, we ought to ask, “Where does this spring from?” Very often these projects arise from our impulses, even from impulses that are good, like that of David. Nathan praised David for his great idea, but our great ideas remain our own ideas. What is truly beautiful is born from the initiative of God. When two young people are trying to discern if they should get married, they need to discern if there is something at the root of their relationship which is a gift from God. When a young man is trying to see if he ought to dedicate his life to God, he ought to discern if this plan originated in some need of his. If the vocation springs from human initiative then it means that it has human DNA from the beginning, but if a person wants to do something truly beautiful then it needs to spring from God. In fact, it is the Lord who needs to be the initiator of this thing and it is we who merely welcome it. New life is welcomed, not generated! No-one has ascended to Heaven, only the Son of Man who has come down from Heaven. It is God who opens Heaven!
God is not a personal chaplain to be summoned whenever we want his aid to complete a project of ours. What we need to do is discern the initiative of God in our lives and welcome it. Virginity is not simply an ethical or physical category. It regards our existential relationship with God
Christmas is pure gift, a gift to be welcomed, not something that comes about as a result of our initiative, no matter how good and presentable our initiative might be. When our initiative is the result of grace, or of a work that the Lord has done, then it can be beautiful and fecund. But when our course of action arises from our own flesh, then we really need to be asking ourselves, “Where did this come from?” In what way is Jesus Christ born? Jesus is born of the generosity of God. How often we try to turn God into our own personal chaplain. “Come here, Lord”, we say, “and bless this thing. Throw some holy water on it. This is my plan and you need to help me to bring it to fruition”. No, Christmas is the surprising initiative of God. This new life is born from a virgin. She is the good earth that allow this healthy seed to be born, free from weeds, free from chaos, the authentic seed of God. Let us seek to recognize the works of God in our lives, his eruptions into our existence, his initiatives in our regard. Virginity is not an ethical category, nor a simply physical category. It is an existential category that regards our relationship with God. With God, things are lived virginally. It is he who must take the initiative. We cannot produce His life on our own.