Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Homily: Advent IV: 2014 updated

The LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house

By the Fourth Sunday in Advent the wise and prudent, among whom I do not count myself, have bought their presents and the difficult part is behind them, namely what to give to whom. Should the gift be practical, something that the recipient really needs? Maybe it should be something wholly impractical, a present which while unnecessary is sure to delight. Or the gift might be thoughtful, something that demonstrates how thoroughly we know an another person and how much we love them.  On the other hand, there might be baser instincts behind our Christmas presents. Last year they gave us something rather grand and we need to reciprocate this year. The present might not have anything at all to do with the intended person but with our bad conscience. It also might be that we just want to impress someone.

King David in the first reading this Sunday, I fear, falls into the last category. Living in his palace, King David has a bad conscience because, compared to him, God has to live in a mere tent. Therefore he decides to do what most kings of nations do: build God an imposing dwelling-place. But God intervenes, with words of both criticism and promise. David is forgetting that God built up his entire kingdom from the moment when he made the young shepherd into a king by anointing him. And God has stood by him through all his victories. Yet this grace extends even farther: the house God has begun to build will be brought to conclusion in David's descendants and ultimately in the great Heir
in whom the house will find perfection.

God lives not only in palaces but in men and women who believe and love. They are his temples and churches and they will never fall into ruins. David's house will continue in his Son and will last forevermore. This is fulfilled in the Gospel.

A virgin betrothed to a man from the house of David, is chosen by God to be his incomparable temple. God's Son, brought by the Spirit to her womb, will make his home in her, and her entire existence will serve his development into a complete man. Here too God's work does not first begin with the moment of annunciation, rather, with the first moment of Mary's existence. With her  Conception God begins to work on his temple; only because he makes her capable of saying an unconditional Yes to him can he move into her house and assure her, like David, that this house will last forever in her Son. "He will rule over the house of Jacob and his reign will be without end."

Mary's son is far more than the son of David: "Something greater than Solomon is here" (Mt 12:42); David himself calls him Lord (Mt 22:45). Yet even if Jesus Christ is going to construct the ultimate temple of God "out of living stones" (I Pet 2:5) set on top of himself as the "cornerstone", he will never forget that he owes himself to the holy house of his mother just as much as he is a descendant of David through Joseph. Her motherhood is so imperishable that, from the Cross, he can name her the Mother of his Church, The Church certainly originates in his flesh and blood, but her "Mystical Body", as Jesus' own body, cannot fail to have the same Mother-she to whom he himself owes his existence. And he gives to those within the Church who share in Mary's fruitfulness a share in her motherhood.

What Christmas present can we give to God in return for His giving to us his Son? The Eastern Orthodox have an answer in the Vespers of the Nativity of Christ:

What shall we offer Thee, O Christ,
Who for our sake has appeared on earth as man?
Every creature which Thou hast made offers thanks.
The angels offer Thee a song.
The heavens, their star.
The wise men, their gifts.
The shepherds, their wonder.
The earth, its cave.
The wilderness, the manger.
And we offer Thee a Virgin Mother!

The only thing we can offer in the way of a present to the Father is what Mary herself offered, which is her “yes” – “Be it unto me according to thy word”. Mary our tainted nature’s solitary boast said William Wordsworth. That is all that we have that the Father wants and that alone is the one necessary Christmas present which we all must give: Yes.

The LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house

Thanks to Fr. von Balthasar for words and inspiration.

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