17 December 2005

Homily - 18 December 2005

Many may be surprised today to hear the Gospel account of the Annunciation. It is the story that we have heard frequently in the past few weeks and rightly so. While Advent calls us to anticipate and to prepare for the second coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King when he will gather the nations to himself and judge all peoples, Advent also calls us to look back to Bethlehem and to see the birth of Christ the Lord. How fitting it is, then, that today, just one week before we celebrate the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord that we hear the Archangel Gabriel say to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

In this last week of Advent, the Scripture readings invite us to be more passive with the Lord, to allow the Lord to prepare our hearts for his coming, to allow him to shape us and mold us and fashion us. Such passivity, though, is very difficult because it requires that we abandon ourselves and surrender to the workings of the Holy Spirit. We can longer seek to control and direct our lives, but must humbly turn to the Lord and follow his lead.

David, in the reading from the Second Book of Samuel, and Mary, from the Gospel of Luke, represent for us two possible ways to approach this last week of Advent, one beneficial and the other not.

King David, the second of the kings of Israel and the greatest of the kings, as well, looks around at his surroundings and sees how very far he has come through the will of the Lord. David was anointed by Samuel to be the King while he was just a lowly shepherd, a handsome young man, but otherwise seemingly lacking in any qualities or characteristics that would suit him as King. But there was one quality that David possessed that was not readily apparent: he had a deep love of the Lord.

It was this love of the Lord that helped David to write a great many of the Psalms. It was this love that allowed David to put his trust in the Lord and this same love allowed him to repent and to ask the Lord for forgiveness and mercy when he sinned, and he sinned greatly. David was a great sinner, but he was also a holy King, because he always tried to do as the Lord asked of him and he always repented of his sins. We would all do well to follow his example.

As David surveyed his kingdom he cried out to the prophet Nathan, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!” (II Samuel 7:2). Believing this to be a disgrace to the Lord, David decided to build a worthy and fitting temple for him in which to dwell and to house the Ark of the Covenant. But the Lord had other plans and sent Nathan to him, saying, “Should you build me a house to dwell in?” (II Samuel 7:5). It is as if the Lord shows David how ridiculous his idea is. The Lord goes on to say:

It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance” (II Samuel 7:8-10).

When David begins to think that he has accomplished all of his great victories and feats through his own talent and accord, the Lord reminds him that the Lord himself has done all of these things for him; David has done nothing, the Lord has done it all. How, then, could David possibly hope to build a house for the Holy One of Israel?

Like, David, Mary, too, wanted to prepare a house for the Lord, but unlike David, Mary sought to prepare a dwelling for the Lord not physically and externally, but spiritually and internally. Whereas David desired to build a house for the Lord out of wood and stones, Mary desired to build a house for the Lord out of her heart and soul.

Even when Gabriel announced to her the startling and bizarre message, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus,” Mary still wished to carry out her desire (Luke 1:31). But through Mary, the word of the Lord spoken through Nathan would be fulfilled, “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (II Samuel 7:14). Mary would come to realize that when she wanted to allow the Lord to dwell within her spiritually, the Lord would now come to dwell within her physically. What greater marvel could there be? The Creator of all things would be born of his humble creature. At this great message, Mary humbly said to the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Mary allowed herself to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and submitted entirely to the will of God and allowed God to prepare within her a most worthy and fitting temple in which he would dwell. May this be the desire and longing of each of our hearts in this last week of Advent. May we take Mary as our model and follow her loving example.

With her fiat, her yes, to the will of the Lord, Mary abandoned her own will and embraced the will of God for her life and by doing so she gave birth to the Savior and Redeemer of all Creation. Mary allowed the Lord to build his house within her, just as he wishes to do with of us.

The Lord desires to fill each of us with his presence, with his love, with his peace, and with his joy. He will never force us to welcome him but always invites us to welcome his presence, just as he invited Mary, through the words of Gabriel, to take a central place in the history of salvation.

When we, like David, attempt to prepare a dwelling for the Lord through our own initiative and through our own desires, the Lord will correct us as well. He calls us, like Mary, to be passive cooperators with him as he prepares us to receive him into our souls at Christmas and, indeed, every time we receive Holy Communion.

The Lord frequently comes to us and invites us to receive him; he asks us to be molded, shaped, and formed by him. He speaks to us in the depths of our hearts and invites us to cooperate with his grace to conform our lives more and more to that of his Divine Son, who was born of the Virgin Mary for our salvation.

In this last week of our preparations and waiting in joyful hope, may we be open to the workings and urgings of the Spirit and allow him to build a dwelling for the Most High within us. Let us rely entirely upon his love and mercy as we welcome him with great joy and happiness.

“To him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God, make known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Romans 16:25-27).

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