Monday, December 22, 2008

Homily for Advent4B

This homily was preached yesterday at St. Stephen Church on the 4th Sunday of Advent (Year B). It's a short homily instead of a sermon because we had our Christmas Play as part of the service.

Here's a link to the readings for the day. Be blessed!

Last week I asked what kind of Christmas you were hoping for.

The texts this week ask a different question of us: what kind of Christmas are you working for?

Sure – holiday flurry:

  • 1 or 2 more people to shop for
  • Several gifts to wrap
  • Food to prepare and a house to clean

How will it all get done?!?

Only one sane answer: teamwork. Everyone pitches in. At our house we have a song: “clean up! Clean up! Everybody everywhere! Clean up! Clean up! Everybody do their share!”

The task before us is insurmountable, unless we have some help from our family. That’s the challenge we find – surprisingly enough – in our lectionary readings today!

Consider David’s plight: David has vowed to establish a house for the worship Lord. In turn, the Lord has vowed to establish David’s house – his royal line – forever!!!

David knows this task will be too much for him, so he rests in the knowledge that his son will be seated on the throne after him. David may not get the job done, but surely his son will carry on for him.

Thankfully for us, David’s greater son was in view – not Solomon, but Jesus. For Solomon would build a beautiful temple, but it would eventually be torn down.

Jesus – David’s greater son – spoke of his own body as a temple; if it be torn down, he would rebuild it in three days! Moreover, Jesus builds his body – the church – as a temple of the Holy Spirit. And he made a promise that the gates of hell could not withstand it.

It’s an amazing promise to David – so great that he doesn’t fully understand what is being given to him in having the messiah come from his family lineage. But this grace will be celebrated by future generations. It will be reiterated by the prophets, until the time is ripe.

As Paul puts it: “the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations, according to the command of eternal god, to bring about the obedience of faith.”

God hid these things until his work of establishing David’s line should be complete. The entire nation desired to hear the good news of the coming king. Then, the Lord revealed it. But notice to whom he reveals it!

Our rehearsal of the Christmas story shows that he chose strange people to be witnesses to the miracle: shepherds – the social outcasts of his time; and gentiles – astrologers far removed from the covenant!

God had tried to reveal his plan to a pious priest in David’s lineage named Zechariah, but he didn’t respond – and so his mouth was shut for 9 months until the birth of his son, John who was to become the baptizer.

Contrast that with the annunciation of our Lord to the Virgin Mary. She receives the news of god’s amazing – even far-fetched – plan in humble submission – what Paul would call “the obedience of faith.” She plainly but sincerely responds: “behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Let me ask again: what kind of Christmas have you been working towards?

Advent exists to prepare our hearts to receive Christ just as he is – not as we would want him to be.

So what was it about Mary that made her able to receive the message with such immediate credulity and submission – to perceive the mystery with an eye to obedience?

Some churches have said all sorts of things about her that have little, if any, basis in scripture. Ideas like Mary being conceived without sin – whether true or not (and I doubt they are) keep us from seeing the source of her real power, and thus emulating it.

We can’t afford to miss this, so look with me briefly at your gospel lesson.

1. Notice that she relied on god’s grace. “Hail favored one” it caught her off guard, because she knew she didn’t merit god’s goodness. So she – in her humility – let god define his relationship with her on his own terms.

2. Notice that she relied on god’s presence: “the Lord is with you!” One certainly gets the sense that Mary was a woman of prayer – one who knew how to enter the presence of god. Her prayer in the Magnificat (later in this chapter) shows a personal appropriation of god’s presence for her personal and community life. That sort of intimacy can only come in prayer.

3. Notice lastly that she relied on god’s word. The Magnificat shows a grasp of god’s covenant words and works in the history of Israel, as recorded in holy writ.

4. Moreover, when the word of god comes to her on the lips of an angel, she believes it fully. She knows that virgins don’t have babies – but she knows even more that whatever god purposes, he accomplishes. And whatever his word says must come to pass.

It’s her reliance on god’s grace, mediated through scripture, confirmed in a vibrant prayer life, that ultimately enables her to submit to god’s plan when he presents it and render that obedience of faith.

I’ll ask it again: what kind of Christmas are you working toward?

Christmas is one of those few times, where the space between the world and the church gets thin. People who ordinarily wouldn’t give a second thought to Jesus and the things of god find themselves strangely drawn into the promise of the Christ child.

Sadly enough, it’s a time when those of us who should have Christ at the center of our everyday lives – can somehow manage to edge him out in our rush to make it a perfect holiday season.

I’ll ask it one last time: what kind of Christmas are you working toward?

It’s not too late to take up Mary’s way.

It’s not too late to stop and re-center ourselves in what Christ has done for us:

To trust him completely for your future,

To ardently seek him as he is revealed in his word,

And to adore him in prayer.

But you’d better hurry up… just four more stopping days till Christmas.

1 comment:

Viola Larson said...

A lot to think about and chew on. Thank you Chris.