First Reading 2 Samuel 7:1–5, 8–12, 14, 16
Psalm Psalm 89:2–5, 27, 29
Second Reading Romans 16:25–27
Gospel Luke 1:26–38
Gospel – Luke 1:26–38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Hearing the Word
“Promise becomes Reality”
The liturgy of this final Sunday of Advent makes God’s intentions and purposes very clear. All that Christians have prepared themselves for in the course of the last three Sundays is made very real through the short but powerful summary of the entire history of salvation which we hear today. Offered at the conclusion of the Advent season, it serves to enhance the celebration of Christmas itself.
The first reading takes us to the very beginning of Israel’s history. In the 10th century BC, after turbulent beginnings, king David succeeded in the establishment of a secure and stable state, “the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him”. Having done this, the king began to think about honouring God, who has been the guiding force behind his military and personal success. David felt guilty that, while he lived in a well-built palace, the Ark of the Covenant – the symbol of God’s presence amidst his people during the Exodus – stayed in a tent. David decided to build a proper Temple, “a house”, to honour the great God of Israel, and he made his intentions known to the prophet Nathan.
Nathan, the prophet who served at the king’s court as the royal adviser, initially approved the plan. However, God had other plans, and made them known speaking through Nathan. First, God stated that he does not need a temple in order to be with his people; he had been with them through the desert journey dwelling in a simple tent just like them (2 Sam 7:6-7). Then, using the solemn formula that announces God’s irrevocably decision – “Thus says the Lord of hosts” – God indicated that he had chosen David, a simple and insignificant shepherd, to make him great and the king over his people (2 Sam 7:8-9). Moreover, God intends to bring lasting well-being and security to the entire nation – both the king and the people will experience the same “rest”. The final part of God’s speech outlines God’s intentions and purposes for David’s future. It begins with the words “the Lord will make you a house”. This statement contains a clever wordplay. David planned to build a house (temple) for God, but God intends to build a house (family/dynasty) for him. The promise of the dynasty extends beyond one generation. It will be a lasting dynasty, enjoying God’s steadfast love and protection forever.
This very significant passage reflects God’s two essential goals and purposes. By refusing the construction of a temple God shows that he is not preoccupied with buildings and structures. Rather, his purpose is to guide his chosen ones towards well-being and greatness, along the path that he had outlined for them, as he did for the people of Israel and David. God’s focus rests on the people rather than grand buildings and structures. Second, God intends to build a lasting and secure dwelling for his people through the family of David, who is like a son to him. This intimate relationship with David and his descendants will result in a lasting dynasty. However, the purpose of this dynasty is to establish the kingdom “forever”, which means that the entire people will benefit from it, by living secure and lasting lives. These promises did not come true in antiquity, as David’s descendants failed to rule well. Yet God, remaining faithful to his word, brought about their fulfilment in the life and work of his Messiah.
The second reading contains the very last lines of the Letter to Romans, the so-called “concluding doxology”. This passage is much discussed by scholars because Paul does not normally conclude his letters in this manner. Typically, his final lines contain personal greetings and blessing upon his faithful. Yet, Romans is a unique letter due to its character as a comprehensive outline of the entire salvation history. In the opening line Paul declared that his mission is to proclaim “the gospel concerning his [God’s] Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:3-4). For Paul, the incarnation of Jesus and his subsequent resurrection are the very content of the gospel. The rest of the letter presents and discusses what God had done through Jesus. Not surprisingly, Paul wanted to conclude this presentation by praising God for what he had done in and through the person of Jesus Christ. Overwhelmed by the grandeur of God’s deeds Paul glorifies the one who called the recipients of the letter to faith, and who “strengthens you [believers] according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ”. In Paul’s eyes, the entire plan of God which was not known to the people of old – “kept secret” – takes full shape in Jesus. He was promised by the prophets and, through his life, death and resurrection, accomplished what God had intended to do for his people, thus fulfilling all of God’s promises. Paul praises God for this, and makes the readers aware that this fulfilment is found in Jesus.
Today’s Gospel contains the account of Annunciation to Mary. It narrates the manner in which Jesus came into the world to begin his mission. The words of Gabriel make it very clear that Jesus will fulfil the promise to David – he is to be God’s son and will rule over an everlasting kingdom. This description is a very faithful reflection of God’s words to David.
Mary, a simple peasant girl, does not initially comprehend this great and awe-inspiring plan, and the role she could possibly play in it. Yet, hearing about the promise to David – a simple shepherd himself, and about the miracle in the life of Elizabeth – she realizes that God works the impossible through the simple, and she declares herself servant of the Lord – someone willing to put her life in the service of God’s purposes. She shows herself to be a person like David. Through the simple peasant, David, God brought the nation to its greatness, through Mary God will do something even greater – she will bring into the world the one through whom God’s salvation will be offered to all people.
Today’s liturgy presents several key points in God’s salvation history. God desired a secure and prosperous life for his people, Israel. He selected David and his family to accomplish this purpose. Yet God’s plans stretched beyond David and the Israelites. Paul spoke of the great mystery – God intended his salvation to be offered to all humanity. To accomplish this God sent his own son, Jesus Christ, who is at once the fulfilment of God’s promise to David and Israel, and also the bringer of God’s salvation to the entire world. Jesus came into to the world through Mary, who, as the servant of the Lord, played an instrumental role in the execution of God’s plan for all humanity. In Jesus, whose birth we will celebrate shortly, we see God’s purposes and promises becoming reality. There is no better response to this message than singing together with the Psalmist “I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.”
Listening to the Word of God
As we approach the great feast of Christmas, the intentions and purposes of God are becoming clear. God chose David, a simple and insignificant person. He also chose Mary a simple and insignificant person. Simple and insignificant because David was only a shepherd boy, and Mary was a village girl. They were both nobodies, but God made them into somebodies. Notice that God’s intimate relationship with David will eventually result in a lasting dynasty. One from the line of David will be king forever in the person of Jesus Christ. God is not interested in dwelling in buildings, rather he desires to be in our hearts. God is not concerned with our building magnificent Churches, but he is concerned about our well-being and greatness according to his designs.
Here in the wolrd, we do have a strong belief in our ancestors, the blessings of great grandparents finding fulfilment in the younger generation. A blessing from a parent is very significant for the African person because of a strong belief in the power of words. We also believe that such utterance will surely come to be. It might not happen immediately, there may even be obstacles to such blessings, as was the case for the people of Israel who went into the exile for a long time. This happened to them because they violated their covenant with God. They may have thought that the promise made to David their father was not true. It took many years before it came to be in the person of Jesus Christ.
We can also hinder God’s promises or blessings in our lives, because of our bad behaviour or attitudes. Within our African society, ancestral or parental blessings are closely associated with good morals. When one behaves well the blessings will come to be, when one behaves badly such a blessing is not received. Thus good morals bring blessings no matter how long it may take. Remember the saying that “no matter how long the night, the day is sure to come.” God may delay, but his promises come to their fulfilment in his own time. We are a part of the process of bringing about their fulfilment.
St Paul goes on to remind us that the incarnation and the resurrection of Jesus are at the very core of the Gospel. The entire plan of our salvation is fulfilled in Jesus, and St Paul praises God for this act of blessing seen in the creation of a new humanity that will be reconciled with God. In the Gospel, Mary would be first to grasp that God works the impossible through the simple, so she would proclaim herself to be the lowly servant of the Lord, available to fulfil God’s purpose. Her yes to God demonstrates her trust in him because what is about to happen to her is beyond human imagining. It is the great gift of God. There are certain moments in which we tend to forget the great gift of God in our lives. We feel too poor or too unworthy to approach God because of our unimportance or bad behaviour, or some attitude within us. Yet, we must have confidence in God working his purposes in and through us. These, no matter how small and unimportant they might appear, are significant in God’s plan for our life and the world. God’s promises for us will surely come true, as they did for David and Mary.
Have I given up hope because things are not working the way I expect them to be?
Do I feel forgotten or abandoned by God because I have behaved badly?
Response to God
In my personal prayers, I am going to remain grateful to God for all that he has done and he is still doing in my life.
Response to your World
Today I will commit myself to being very attentive to the blessings of God in my life. I will call or send messages to those individuals who I think are a blessing to me. I will say thank you to them.
As a group, we are going to reflect on the blessings of God in our lives. We will count our blessings and name them as we share with one another.
Lord God, I thank you for all the blessings you have bestowed on me and my family and friends. I ask your pardon for the moments in which I have failed to recognise your hand at work in my life. Help me to be ever grateful to you through Christ our Lord. Amen.