The Fourth Sunday of Advent (B)
Dear brothers and sisters,
So great is the mystery of the Incarnation of the only begotten Son of God that even before Mother Church begins her celebration of Christmas she proclaims the Annunciation to us. In doing so, we are invited to be more passive with the Lord, to allow him to prepare our hearts for his coming, to allow him to shape us, mold us, and fashion us. Such passivity, though, can be difficult because we must abandon ourselves and surrender to the workings of the Holy Spirit. No longer can we seek to control and direct our lives; we must instead humbly turn to the Lord and follow his lead. David and Mary represent for us two possible ways to approach this last day of Advent, one beneficial and the other not.
King David, the second of the kings of Israel and the greatest, looked around at his surroundings and saw how very far he had come. He had been taken from the sheep pastures and anointed king by Samuel. He had been a handsome young man, but otherwise seemingly lacking in any requisite qualities of kingship. Nevertheless, as he 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 in which God would dwell, but the Lord had other plans and sent Nathan to him, asking, “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. How could mortal man build a house for the Almighty? 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 began to think he accomplished his great victories through his own skill, the Lord reminded him he had not. Rather, it was the Lord himself who did all of this for him; David did nothing, the Lord did it all. How, then, could David possibly hope to build a house for the Holy One of Israel? He wanted to welcome God into his life on his own terms. How often do we desire to do the same?
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Like, David, Mary, too, wanted to prepare a house for the Lord, but unlike David, she sought to prepare a spiritual and internal dwelling for the Lord; whereas David desired to build a house for the Lord out of wood and stone, Mary desired to build a house for the Lord out of her heart and soul. It is a great wonder that when Mary wanted the Lord to dwell within her spiritually, he made his home within her physically. What greater marvel could there be? Through Mary, the word the Lord spoke through Nathan was fulfilled, “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (II Samuel 7:14). The Creator of all things would be born of his humble creature.
At this great message, Mary quietly 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). She welcomed the Lord into her life on his terms, not her own, “and because the Virgin Mary humbled herself, she prepared herself for God’s grace.” She consented entirely to the will of God and allowed him to prepare within her a most worthy and fitting temple in which he would dwell. Let each of us take Mary as our model and follow her loving example. We expend so much effort and energy making everything just right at Christmas: the ornaments must be carefully placed on the tree; the Nativity scene displayed just so; the dining room table neatly set; the lights brightly twinkling; the presents beautifully wrapped. These things are not unimportant, but we can, like David, seek to direct too much. We can control the state of our physical homes to receive our human guests, but let us not seek to control the state of our hearts to receive the Divine Guest lest we inadvertently close the door to him.
When we, like David, attempt to prepare a dwelling for the Lord through our own initiative and through our own desires, let us not be ashamed when the Lord corrects us. He calls us, like Mary, to be passive cooperators with him as he prepares us to receive him into our hearts 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 and not by our own desires and egos. 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 from sin and death. Christmas is about much more than a heart-warming story.
Let us follow Mary. Let us not argue with God, let us not give him directions or advice, but let us instead consent to his will and allow him to prepare our hearts for him. When we feel him stir within our hearts, let us not dismiss him, but let us rather open wide the door to him. The Lord desires to fill each of us with his presence, with his love, his peace, his joy. He will never force us to welcome him, but he asks to be welcomed in.
On this last day of our waiting in joyful hope, let us allow the Lord to build a dwelling for the Most High within us. Let us follow Mary and rely entirely upon his love and mercy and so welcome him with gratitude and joy. Then we shall indeed worthily celebrate his Birth. Amen.