Reflections on the Readings
Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 18, 2011 - Year B
By Dennis S. Hankins
The Promise of Christmas
Gabriel said to Mary, "For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:37, 38)
A colleague of mine has a little 3 year old boy. She recently explained to her little feller that together they would make a birthday cake for Jesus. She told him how Jesus' birthday was coming soon. I think she wants him to know that Christmas is a promise - a promise made to the Virgin Mary that her son will be called the Son of the Most High - the King whose first throne was a manger.
The first reading reminds us of a promise God made to David. David desired to build a suitable shrine for the ark of the covenant. For several years the ark was kept in tents while David went about the business of solidifying his kingdom. So it came into David's heart, after many years of warfare, that now in an era of peace and a comfortable palace of cedar for himself, that he should build a house for the Lord.
Through Nathan the prophet God makes a promise to David. David is promised a house, a dynasty. And God promises that he will be a father forever to the house of David and to his decendants. And the grand finale of God's promise is that David's kingdom will endure forever before the Lord. Fast forward to today's Gospel and we read that Gabriel is sent by God to the city of Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name is Joseph, of the house David; and the virgin's name is Mary. Luke wants us to note the connection to the promise made to David. God promised David a dynasty, a dynasty that became the basis of the expectation of an anointed king whose kingdom would have no end.
The very first promise of Christmas came in the Garden. You remember how Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sought to be like God without God. That fatal meal from the forbidden tree was not a simple stubbing of the toe. Theologically it has always been described as the Fall. Humankind became estranged from the God of love through sin. It wasn't an accident or a simple misunderstanding. The whole event altered the humanness of humanity. And God, whose love never lets go, promised the serpent of old, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:15)
Grace is greater than our sin. When we grow in that grace we learn to overcome sin. And when we stray from that grace, as we do, our humanness falters. And our time making a good confession as we are invited to do during Advent, restores again our soul - the promise of Christmas grace becomes the only gift we really need. I think it is this love of the Father and the grace of Christmas and all the promise that Christmas holds for the world that we should think about and pray about this final week of Advent.
The power we need to help us be our true selves is not wrapped up under the Christmas tree. My dear brothers and sisters, the promise of Christmas is not a thing but a person; the person of Jesus the Christ. It is Jesus Christ who inspires hope and causes the weary soul to feel its worth as the song O Holy Night reminds us.
Our Salvation depends on whether or not Mary those many centuries ago really found favor with God. If she did not, then let us eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. Let us be consumed by all that glitters and glows and throw caution to the wind. If Gabriel did not visit Nazareth and bring Mary God's loving message then we are perilously lost.
But the promise of Christmas is real. It's as real as the faith of a child whose eyes glow at the wonder she beholds in the holy creche. And our faith is reminded today of the power of Christmas - For with God nothing is impossible. Mary's full consent is an example and invitation to us to open ourselves freely to God's power of faith and hope and love- the greatest of these is love. It is the greatest power on earth because it comes from the very inner life of the Holy Three in One. The mystery of our selves as creatures made in the image of God is illumined by that love, with the power to cover a multitude of sins. An old song comes to mind entitled the Love of God:
"Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made; Were every stalk a quill, and every man a scribe by trade; to write the love God above would drain the ocean dry; Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky."
Lastly, the promise of Christmas is about our destiny as sons and daughters of God. At this Holy Eucharist we partake of the divine nature. Here we commune not as strangers but as brothers and sisters in Christ. May we become what we eat and drink - the very face of our Lord and Savior. This is my prayer as I come to this Table with you this morning. Let us make a throne of our hands and partake of the very promise of Christmas - the Son of God - the Son of Mary. Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com