4th Sunday of Advent (B) – December 20, 2020
St. Mary – Derby, KS
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89:2-5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
(1) The Advent Shift: Focus Turned to the Incarnation
I’ve been going on and on all Advent about how the Advent season is meant to focus our attention on the coming of the Lord at the end of time, that it’s meant to turn our attention to our need for Christ to come and set things right, to return and finish what he started. And I’ve gotten a lot of nasty looks when I say that. And I get it. People want Advent to be about getting ready for Christmas.
But now the focus of the Advent season has shifted! Now you are completely justified in turning all of your attention to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Now you can tell me, “Ha! It is about getting ready for Christmas, Fr. Michael!” Eight days before Christmas, the focus of the readings and the prayers at Mass turn from the need for Jesus to return—they turn from that and toward the mystery of the Incarnation, of God becoming man and born of the Virgin Mary.
The very first prayer of this octave—and really the essence of the mystery of the Incarnation—is also a simple prayer that the priest prays every Mass. You don’t hear it because…I don’t know, the instructions for the Mass tell us to say it quietly, that’s why. But this prayer happens when he the priest mixes the water and wine. I say, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” The wine in this case is the symbol of Jesus’ divinity and the water is the symbol of our humanity. Again, this is the opening prayer for the Mass that started the octave leading up to Christmas, this octave which focuses our attention on the Incarnation. So why? What’s the big deal?
Well, the big deal is that this is what it’s all about. All of it. The Fathers of the Church had a quick and pithy way of summing this up: Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Deus. God became man so that man might become God. This is also the point Paul is making at the beginning of Romans (c.f., Romans 3:9-26).
And this is not a new plan! Adam and Eve didn’t mess up in the garden and then God decided to make things better and give us more, no. This was the plan from the very beginning! The goal from the beginning was for all mankind to share in the eternal life of God (i.e., the divine life) and this is what is restored to us in Israel’s Messiah King, Jesus.
(2) Why? New Humanity
For reasons that we don’t have time to go into here (and for reasons that, honestly, you probably don’t really even want to know), we’ve been told this strange story about how the goal—the reason Jesus came, what we’re all trying to do here—is to get to heaven. And that’s kinda sorta halfway part of it…but not really. The original covenant that God made with mankind, the covenant he made with Adam and Even, was a covenant to share in his life, to rule with him—in other words, to share in the divinity of God, to have eternal life. Before Adam messed it all up and everyone after him messed it up even more, the Church Fathers would probably say, “God created man so that man could be God.” But we know how that story goes. Adam decided he was going to do what was right in his own eyes, he was going to rule on his own terms. And when humans do that, all that follows is broken relationships, violence, and death. And if you look at the story of Scripture, that’s exactly what you see: broken relationships, violence, and death.
But God is faithful to us. Even when we messed up, God remained faithful to us. And little by little, God begins to restore us, to recreate us, to lead us into a new humanity.
I was visiting the grade school kids this past week, and we were talking about how God could have fixed the problem, how God could have gotten rid of the evil and sin in the world. And what we discovered is that God could easily have done it: just get rid of humans. It’s pretty simple, actually. Other people have stumbled upon this fact: the Columbine shooters for example, or most anyone who decides that humans need to be wiped off the face of the earth. If you get rid of humans, you get rid of evil. And that’s the focus of the first step in God’s plan. With Noah, God promises not to destroy everyone on the earth, but that the earth will be a place where God and humans can work together.
God then calls Abraham and makes a covenant with him; a covenant that Abraham will have a family. As the story goes on, God forms a covenant with Moses; a covenant that establishes Israel as a nation. The story then gets to David, and God makes a covenant with him as well (that’s what our first reading is all about). And this covenant is the culmination of all the others. This covenant establishes an international kingdom. In other words, God’s covenant is offered to all peoples of every nation.
Great! But that clearly didn’t work. That kingdom was divided by civil war and then crushed by Assyria and Babylon. What gives? Well, it’s a problem of faithfulness. “God is faithful,” that is something that Scripture affirms time and again. God is faithful. But we are not. Humanity is not. Time and again, we are unable to hold up our end of the bargain. If only humanity were faithful, everything would be set right. We need a human who is faithful. We need a “faithful Israelite.”
(3) How? Through an Everlasting Covenant Based on the Faithfulness of God
So think: one, God is making covenants so that we can be part of the renewed humanity, share in divinity; two, faithfulness to these covenants is the key, that’s how it happens; but three, even though God is faithful, humanity refuses to be faithful.
That’s the problem. We are disloyal. Instead of being faithful and letting God bless us, we try to do it ourselves. This is what the Bible calls sin and idolatry. And we do this all the time. We think we don’t! We come to Mass, say prayers, and whatever. But time and again we have others “gods” that we go to for comfort, and refuge and strength.
For example, I don’t want to call anyone out too hard—but I guess here I go—for example, one of the “gods” that we turn to (not anyone here, of course)—but one of the gods that people set up for themselves is sports. And all of a sudden, their entire life revolves around what time the Chiefs are playing (3:25pm). Have you ever noticed that? They’ll never say that the Chiefs are their God, of course not. But all of a sudden you look at their life and whatever time the Chiefs are playing, magically those four hours are wide open in their life. They offer food and drink and time to this god. They clothe themselves in the clothing of their god.
Do you see my point? My point is not that watching the Chiefs or enjoying sports is bad, no. My point is that many people would be more upset by missing a Chiefs game than by not being able to receive the Eucharist, or something like that. Many people feel very “renewed” by watching the Chiefs, and so they forget to live out a life of faithfulness to God.
We are unfaithful. Time and again, we try to renew our humanity, to share in divinity, on our own terms. We are not faithful. God is faithful. And so God must come. God must become man if man is to become God.
(4)Who? To Those Who Possess “Believing Obedience” (Rom 1:5)
The Gospel today…well that’s what this Gospel is all about. The Angel Gabriel announces that God has been faithful to his end of the bargain. The Angel Gabriel announces that God is coming to fulfill the covenant he made with his people.
Our opening prayer says it so beautifully. It’s the same prayer you say when you pray the Angelus, the prayer that recalls this scene from our Gospel today. The opening prayer prays that “…we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.” The prayer is all about us, you and me, humanity, sharing in the glory of the Resurrection! As in, us being Resurrected just like Jesus. As in, we come to share in the new humanity inaugurated in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, true God and true human.
We are brought to this not because we are faithful, but because God is faithful. We cannot do it; we can only be loyal.
Our response is simply the response given by Mary, faithful daughter Zion. We don’t say, “Yes, Lord! I will go out and conceive a child! I will set him up as the King of Israel!” No. It is simply, “FIAT. Let it be done to me. Let it happen just as you say.”
God is faithful. And in the faithful obedience of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, by the mystery of his Incarnation—God becomes man so that man might become God.