19 December 2020 Homily for Fourth Sunday in Advent
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (B)
Bishop Noel Treanor
ST PETER’S CATHEDRAL, BELFAST
Readings; 2 Sm7.1-5, 8-11, 16; Ps 88.2-5, 27,29 ; Rom 16.25-27 ; Lk.1-26-38
I ‘Go and tell my servant David : Thus the Lord speaks …’ (2 Sm 7.5)
The Word of God is a reality, a phenomenon, that makes a difference. It can change plans and ways of life! That’s the theme common to the readings from the Old Testament and New Testament that we have just heard.
On this fourth Sunday of Advent, the line from the first reading, an extract from the second book of Samuel – ‘go and tell my servant David – thus the Lord speaks’ sets the scene for St Paul’s reference to his preaching the ‘Good News in which I proclaim Jesus Christ, the revelation of a mystery kept secret for endless ages’ (Rom 16.25) and also for the well-known lines from the first chapter of the gospel according to St Luke, the Annunciation scene.
In all three of these passages the Word of God is presented as a reality which interacts with and addresses peoples’ lives – David and Mary in the settings described – and changes their course.
The Word of God can and does exercise change, sometimes in surprising ways, in our lives.
II Gabriel said to her : ‘Rejoice’ (Lk 1.28 )
Not only is change set in train in the plans and lives of David and Mary! The change that takes place entails joy as well as surprise! Notice the first word attributed to the angelic messenger, Gabriel : ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured’ (Lk 1.28) – words which continue the symbolic meaning of the rose candle on the Advent wreath, lit last Sunday, Guadete Sunday.
The Word of God is the Good News of the incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. It is the Good News of the gospel vision of life and of death for it is the Good News of a new hope of eternal life. The Good News of the gospel is a force and a power of new hope for each one of us.
III ‘Look / behold (Lk 1.31)
As we listen to these readings on our approach to the feast of the Nativity, when ‘the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us’ (Jn 1.14), as the author of St John’s gospel will put it in the gospel text read on Christmas morning, it’s worth recalling that St Luke put his gospel together in the early 80s for a non-Jewish, therefore Gentile community in Syrian Antioch.
That community of early Christians was dealing with tensions and controversies among its members. A central issue in the light of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, a traumatic experience for the Jewish people, was whether God was faithful to his promises to his chosen people. If not, what, these Gentiles wondered, was the point of belief in this God on their part!
From the outset of his writings St Luke sets about announcing that God was faithful to the promises made to Israel and that in Jesus this fidelity is maintained and extended to include non-Jews, Samaritans and people with all kinds of backgrounds, provided they listen to the Word. Israel in St Luke’s writings becomes a reconstituted Israel.
IV ‘For nothing is impossible to God’ (Lk.1.37)
The reference to Elizabeth’s late pregnancy echoes the annunciation of the birth of Isaac (Gn. 18.14) to Abraham and Sarah and it sounds a theme dear to Luke, namely, the God’s power to create new life, new capacity, from nothing and to restore with complete renewal.
In her positive response to the proposal of Gabriel, as portrayed in the Annunciation narrative, Mary has been described as ‘the forerunner of Luke’s gallery of rogues’ – a motley line of people, not unlike ourselves, on the pages of his gospel who would not be expected to respond positively to God’s revelation and in whom the Lord Jesus awakened faith and hope.
This is the message of joy and hope of Christianity. It is the joy and hope of the Good News of the gospel addressed to all without exception in their personal and historical circumstances, as they are, not as they might or should be, but as they and we are now.
We are all addressees of this Good News. And at the same time we are Messengers, like Gabriel, of its restorative healing power, of its wonder and joy for others as well as ourselves.
Like Mary, let’s listen to it as it is proclaimed in the liturgy. Let’s ponder it in our hearts, as Mary did (Lk2.19) and let’s allow it to rejuvenate, heal, restore and incentivise our lives with hope, charity and faith.