4 Advent December 24, 2017 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL
Samuel 7, 1-5, 8-12, 14-16 + Psalm 89 + Romans 16, 25-27 + Luke 1, 26-38
David wants to build a Temple, a dwelling place for God; and God says, “No, you don’t build a place for me.” David lives in a fine palace, and he wants to put God in a fine Temple. God isn’t interested, and through the prophet proceeds to tell David all the things God has done just in case David thinks he did those things. Then suddenly the same God who said, “no” to David is ready for a dwelling place, but it is not a finely decorated, richly appointed Temple in the glorious and powerful city of Jerusalem. It is in a dusty little place off the beaten path that God asks for a home. God’s choice for a home is not Powerful, Handsome, Successful King David who is lounging around in his glory. God’s choice for a home is, as we hear tomorrow, a stable. He came, not through a King or a Priest or a Prophet, but from someone who is barely more than a child. She is nobody’s wife and nobody’s mother, an absolute nobody in society. Right there an angel asks her to agree to God’s plan to change everything. This is the mystery we are invited to contemplate today on the Eve of Christmas.
What made it all possible was the fact that Mary listened. Listening is getting to be a rare experience these days. Most people would rather talk, make announcements, or shout. Getting people to listen is ultimately the only way to bring about change, but getting anyone to listen, especially someone who has made up their mind about something is a real challenge to patience and courage. It is no wonder than so little ever changes. Another word for Listening is Obedience. It implies listening so carefully, so attentively, so openly, that the listener is prepared to be changed by what they hear. A law may be imposed on people, but if they do not internalize that law, if they do not choose it as a good way to act, it is only as effective as the painful punishment for infractions.
Now, Mary listened to the angel, and the listening allowed her heart to be vulnerable to God’s grace which is another way of saying that she was obedient. She was not passive about it all and carefully explained why God’s plan seemed impossible to her. She was not even married, not even a real wife! But, she was open enough to listen to a plan that was different from the plan she had for her life and bigger than her expectations or imagination. Some of you may remember what I said last week about how important imagination is for a disciple of Jesus Christ. In the end, what she heard as she listened was that nothing is impossible with God.
The whole long story of God’s relationship with Israel is a story of how the impossible becomes possible with God; of how Abraham’s old wife could bear a son, of how a little boy could put down a giant, of how a handful of Israelites could take over well-fortified and brave Canaan. Over and over again there is a constant reminder and evidence that when people listen, things can happen that were never imagined and seemed impossible.
We are not telling this story to sit back and admire the Blessed Virgin and be impressed by her humble obedience. We are telling this story and proclaiming this Gospel because God is still challenging our fears and asking us to listen. God is still choosing people like us who do not live in palaces and who have not accomplished anything really remarkable that might go down in history. God still asks us to not be afraid, to listen, and by our listening, our courage, and our faith to very possibly change the whole world. Thinking that this is impossible contradicts the Gospel and refuses the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s time to listen suggests Advent’s fourth Sunday, and when we do there will really be peace on earth and good will for all.