Fourth Sunday in Advent 2020


In today’s readings, we have two instances of people who have been given a promise——well, really more than two, but I will get to that in a minute. First, there is David. Nathan the prophet is instructed to tell David,

“‘It was I who took you from the pasture
and from the care of the flock 
to be commander of my people Israel.
I have been with you wherever you went,
and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.
And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.”

David came from humble origins, as the shepherd whom no one even thought to call from the field to see whether he could be God’s anointed one. Everyone assumed that any brother except David could be king, yet God chose him. David also had plenty of enemies, from political enemies to internal struggles that later led him to seek out Bathsheba, and even arrange for her husband’s exposure to peril in war, and later death. Yet God nonetheless loves David and chooses him to lead the people.

In the Gospel reading, we see God choose another person of humble origin, a young woman, Mary, from the poor area of Galilee, unwed and likely not anyone that would have been thought of as “chosen” by her neighbors at the time. The angel Gabriel comes to her and says that God has chosen her to bear a son, who will rule in descent from David. Mary expresses puzzlement, since she has as of yet had no relations with a man, but she says, “let it be done,” consenting to her place in salvation history, a place that she does not really understand, and will only understand as it unfolds.

In both of these instances, in God’s call of David and call of Mary, we see that their call is also closely linked to everyone else’s call, too. Nathan’s words do not stop with God’s assertion to David that he will be “famous” (surely we can glimpse, perhaps with some amusement, that David’s personality indicates he might well have liked to have been famous). Nathan goes on to say:

“I will fix a place for my people Israel;
I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place
without further disturbance.”

David’s acceptance of his call also leads to peace and a place of being-at-home for the people of Israel. Nathan may emphasize David’s fame, but the real legacy of David is everyone else who follows him, the peace and justice that God promises to the entire community as a result of his willingness to serve.

Likewise, Mary’s call is to be mother to the Christ child, to let Jesus be born, to raise him, to love him and eventually to learn from him. Her life is the first fully Christ-centric life. She is not only his mother but also his first disciple, as Pope Benedict XVI often emphasized in his writings about Mary. Yet she also is authentically someone who accepts her call, not passively but actively, a partner with God in salvation history, She is humbler than David, and the angel does not bother to speak to her about fame; rather the angel speaks about possibility: “nothing will be impossible for God.” In this, Mary has faith, enough faith to say yes–a faith that will sustain her through pregnancy, parenting, even her son’s death, resurrection, and departure again in ascension. After her son’s ascension, Mary is mentioned as present at Pentecost, clearly an active part of the early Christian community. Again, her mission is not simply about herself, but the wideness of church life, the wideness of human community.

I said at the start that there are not just two people who are called in the readings for today, because the way that these readings point to community in the lives of David and Mary remind us that they also point to us. Where are we called to accept leadership, or humble service, so that peace and justice may reign? Where are we asked to get past our enemies and our fears (whether external like the real challenges and losses of the pandemic, or internal “enemies”) so that we can say in sincerity to God “Let it be done according to your will?” Where is our part in allowing the Christ child to be born into our hearts, and through our works and words, also into the world?

On this last Sunday of Advent before Christmas, we might each take a few moments in silence to pray with the invitation that God extends to Mary, to be grateful for her yes, and for God’s “YES” in becoming incarnate, and to ask God where God wants us to say yes so that Christ may be born in us and through us— and discovered in others whom we know, anew, in the gift of human family and community.