Advent – Fourth Sunday

by Fr Dumisani Vilakati

  • First Reading : 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
  • Psalm : Psalm 89
  • Second Reading : Rom 16:25-27
  • Gospel : Luke 1:26-38

The readings in this Fourth Sunday of Advent remind us of the supremacy of God in all our endeavours. We can boldly say therefore: To God be the Glory, Amen!

The first reading reminds us of the encounter between King David and the prophet Nathan. The matter under discussion between them concerns the setting up of a major project, the building of the Temple. This is after David had succeeded in destroying his enemies. Indeed, it is during times of peace and security that major projects are normally planned and executed. There is seemingly complete agreement between them on this matter until God directs Nathan to relate the matter that David will not build the Temple. The reading goes on to indicate how the Lord has always been present in the life of David, including of course taking him from the pasture, following sheep, to eventually become a commander of God’s people.

The temporary failure by David to recall all that the Lord had done for him may very well be classified as pride. In fact, pride is still classified by the Church as the deadliest of all sins. Even in our own days and indeed in our own Diocese, some Catholics speak with pride on the many things they have accomplished in building schools, health centres and other social centres for taking care of the poor and marginalised people. Whilst all these projects are fundamentally good and noble, nevertheless we should always see the finger of God who has made all these things possible. Our joy should be God himself who has strengthened us and who will make us endure forever. I like the motto of the Society of Jesus, “To the Greater Glory of God”. May it be that in all our projects and works for the betterment of the poor and marginalised persons we be inspired to remember that all the good that comes our way is due to the ever present assistance of God.

The psalm speaks of David and the fact that he will, through the generations, make him endure forever. The main actor, the protagonist, in the psalm is God himself who makes David succeed.

The second reading, taken from the last verses of the letter to the Romans, contains a doxology (a hymn of praise). Paul directs himself “to him who can strengthen you”. Who is this him? Evidently, it is God himself. Paul indicates that God is in charge of everything as seen by the emphasis on the command of the eternal God, the obedience of faith and that there be glory to the only wise God for evermore through Jesus Christ. Why so much praise for God? The answer is on what God has done in admitting both Jews and Gentiles into the framework of justification and salvation. Indeed, both Jews and Gentiles are saved by the action of God and in fact no one can question God’s decisions. The supremacy of God is evident when Paul says in the same letter to the Romans (9:19-21), “But you- who do you think you, a human being, are to answer back to God? Something that was made, can it say to its maker: why did you make me this shape? A potter has the right over his clay to make out of the same lump either a pot for special use or one for ordinary use”.

The gospel transports us to a scene taking place in the house of Mary, in Nazareth of Galilee. In the house of Mary we meet two characters, the angel Gabriel and Mary. We are in a sense intruders, eavesdropping, in a private conversation between the two characters. We are not only invited to listen in to the conversation but also to get inside Mary and observe her emotional and mental processes as the conversation with the angel is carried forward. More importantly too, we also observe the meeting between heaven, represented by the angel and earth, represented by Mary.

True to what has been mentioned above, even the gospel seeks to emphasise the supremacy of God. The angel Gabriel has a message to deliver which he does faithfully and remains with Mary until such time that the message is accepted. Prior to his departure (Gabriel) is the affirmation that nothing will be impossible for God. Mary on the other hand, has her emotions laid bare for us to observe as she becomes deeply troubled and also pondering on the greeting. The angel thus had to minister to her. “Do not be afraid Mary for you have found favour with God”. Only then is she able to speak as her first words are- “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” This, in fact, should not be seen as a lack of faith and trust in God on the part of Mary. It is a normal vocation story and as such Mary stands in the great tradition of the prophets in Israel (Moses in Ex 3:1-4:17, Gideon in Judges 6:11-24, Isaiah in Is. 6 and Jeremiah in Jer. 1:4-10) who also struggled with their own vocations. She tries to make sense of her vocation and at times indicating the difficulties of such a vocation. She is wrestling with the invitation. Should she say yes or no? At the end of it all, when the angel says nothing is impossible with God, we are certainly relieved when she accepts that indeed God is in charge and proceeds to say, “behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word”.

The advent season, now about to be concluded, marks the beginning of the Church’s Year. We know too that the civil year is about to commence on the first of January. It remains important for us, the pilgrim people of God, to be always aware that God remains the main protagonist of the spiritual life. He will guide us through the coming year as he protected the infant Jesus from being killed by Herod. Indeed, in the coming year, the Lord himself (28th Sunday in Ordinary time B) will remind us of the divine possibilities when he says after the story of the rich young man and the danger of riches, “by human resources it is impossible, but not for God: because for God nothing is impossible” (Mk 10:27). As we come closer to the celebration of Christmas, let us pray that these constant reminders of the supremacy of God may make us all the more ready to proclaim ourselves simply the handmaids of the Lord, able to accomplish all things in him who strengthens us (cf. Phil 4:13).