Advent IV 2014  

Some might find the conjunction of the lesson from the Old Testament and the Gospel a strange one. Both are dialogues in which great promise is made; both are messages from God, the one given through a prophet and the other through and angel. Both look to a wide and undetermined future, the one to that of Israel before God the other to the birth of the one who is the union of God and humanity.

Yet the conjunction is a happy one. Pray consider. There is David, now a King; there is a measure of peace and stability. He has got there under divine blessing but by what means. As we sang yesterday, he has endured trouble (Psalm 132) and exile and has a desire to do God right:

‘I will not allow my eyes to sleep, nor let my eyelids slumber until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the mighty one of Jacob’

Yet he has also killed, tricked and fought to get where he now is and there is a peace around. David is a mixture of ‘glad yielding and manipulative utility’ in Bruggemann’s phrase1. He has got himself a super new house and is now to build one for God: that is his new agenda. It will be  a kind of victory lap for him. It is the new plan, the new build.

Nathan  is content with the old way, happy now that the ark has come to Jerusalem; he loves the presence of God in Israel – he also loves the music and the liturgy. However, he is clearly not going to encourage his master and God does not go in with David’s plans. His message from God rebuffs David; no this is not right but it will be you to get a house a dynasty, this is my covenant with you. As we know from the slow and steady betrayal of that covenant, that dynasty lasts but a short while and the temple only for a little longer.

David’s hope of something which he can fix and do - I have a brilliant idea and God will approve - will remain around in Israel. It has a strong pull on those in power and continues to do so. I have a good idea for doing stuff, God will like it and surely gives it His blessing. God’s judgement on that is severe and knows no slack. Applied to human hopes, David’s model was disastrous once and will be so again and again.

Such a model is set aside when Gabriel appears to Mary. Here is no King, no manager with a great sense of what he has got, with divine backing following. Here is a teenage girl about to be married, not in Jerusalem but from a provincial backwater; the angel comes to more like Dewsbury rather than Manchester. The wisdom of generations is about to be checked and brought to judgement. Jesus' origins are mocked all along the way, right to the cross. Unlike David, He will be motivated by God not by the means which seem to get to God; He will not go off course and still less will He resist returning.

Here, Mary is the one who corresponds to David; today is not annunciation but Advent to be sure. She is promised and although this time the promise will be realised more immediately, it is everlasting and she is promised that she will not go off course for the Holy Spirit will come on her and the power of the Most High will overshadow her. She will bring what is needed to realise that promise and, unlike David, she will not bend it to her agenda.

Of course she remains so, one who does indeed receive and respond to the grace of God - David did that also - but one who, faced by the different way God has of doing things, does not bend it to fit a human term. She is all glad yielding, no manipulative use here. This wondrous lady, this ‘day of small things’ as Zechariah has recently spoken to us (Zech 4.10), whom Christ is first to to visit us in great humility’, is taken by God to bring His purposes to pass and without end. As the promise given to David looked far into a future, that of the faithful God, so here a promise takes root, whose fruit is sure, whose growth will not be stopped or blighted by the vagaries of human agendas, manipulative utility, ever.

It is why here in Our Lady we have the ultimate word as well as the first to that mystery which we soon are to celebrate; a mystery which she knew with unique intimacy, a mystery which she continues to give us with such glad response, natura mirante2, all that is in wonder. It is why, when we are inclined to think back two thousand years, it may be worth a reminder to ourselves that this mystery touches us now and does so because of what Christ and His Mother are on the last day. It will be our measure, to all our agendas when He comes again.

Thou who didst once, while wond’ring worlds adored,
Bear thy Creator, Virgin then as now,
O by thy holy joy at Gabriel’s word,
Pity the sinners who before thee bow3

Thomas Seville CR

1 First and Second Samuel, p253

2 From the Alma redemptoris mater:

            Alma Redemptoris Mater, quæ pervia cæli

Porta manes et stella maris, succurre cadenti,

Surgere qui curat, populo: tu quæ genuisti,

Natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem

Virgo prius ac posterius, Gabrielis ab ore

Sumens illud Ave, peccatorum miserere.

3 Translated by David Oswald Hunter-Blair OSB