4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle B

The Fourth Sunday of Advent’s readings remind us, at the threshold of Christmas, that the mysteries of Our Lord and his saving plan are something revealed gradually over time, and will culminate with seeing Our Lord face to face in eternity. If we seek to gradually unravel the mystery we find that it goes beyond all our expectations.

In today’s First Reading King David decides it is time to build the first Temple for the Lord, and he receives a promise of a lasting dynasty. However, this dynasty is not like any other dynasty. The Ark of the Covenant in David’s time, a sign and instrument of the Lord’s presence among his people, had been housed in nothing better than a fancy tent, and now that David’s kingdom was secure he starts to feel guilty about the Lord’s nomadic “accommodations.” He consults the prophet Nathan and receives the green light from the Lord to start planning for the construction of what would become the first Temple of Israel, completed eventually by his son Solomon.

The Lord is pleased with David’s initiative, because David was showing appreciation for all the Lord had done for him: he’d gone from being a young shepherd to a great military leader to a king thanks to the Lord, not his own merits. The Lord promised David a lasting peace and success for his kingdom, but not just in David’s lifetime. The “house” of David, in recognition of the “house” he wanted to build for the Lord, would be a dynasty that endured in the Lord’s presence not just in history, but forever. That descendant who ensured that eternal dynasty would one day be revealed to be Our Lord, the Messiah, whose birthday we’ll celebrate real soon.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that God’s plans are always revealed gradually, shrouded in mystery. The Messiah wasn’t revealed at first to be the Son of God. That was revealed in Our Lord’s Incarnation, as the Gospel today reminds us. The Messiah wasn’t revealed at first to be a blessing for anyone other than Israel, but in Christ it was revealed that the Messiah would be a blessing for “all nations.” What Nathan and other Old Testament prophets foretold was only fully revealed and understood in Our Lord. The key to unlocking the mysteries of God is named Jesus Christ, but turning that key requires faith in him, following his rhythm.

In today’s Gospel the Annunciation, and Mary’s response, remind us that there’s always an element of mystery in God’s plan for our lives, a mystery to be accepted in faith. If you seek rational certainty you’re no longer believing, you’re just trying to prove something. The Angel Gabriel is dropping more bombs than a military plane. Mary doesn’t know how to respond to an angel appearing to her and saying she is pleasing to the Lord. It’s pure humility on her part.

Then Gabriel drops another bomb: the Lord wants Mary to be the mother of the Messiah. Mary is confused, because it seems her plans, good plans, were not God’s plans after all. The Church Fathers see in this confusion Mary’s prior plan to have pledged her perpetual virginity out of love for God, something unheard of in her time among the Jews. While explaining the biological and theological technicalities Gabriel also lets her know that her son will be the Son of God.

Mary was faced with a decision, the decision to become something seemingly impossible: the Virgin Mother of God the Son, who’d be the Messiah and save Israel. To understand the true weight of her decision we must forget for a moment everything that came after this decision. Put yourself in her shoes in that moment. She had to decide to embrace the seemingly impossible based on a promise that nothing was impossible to God.

She was faced with a mystery that in many ways was beyond her comprehension, but it was God’s mystery and that was enough for her: she accepted God’s mystery in her own life with faith and was never the same. She didn’t qualify her acceptance of the invitation; she said, “May it be done to me according to your word.”

Our Lord leaves signs for anyone with faith who wants to find them. He even promises that the Holy Spirit will help us to find them. A little silence and prayer will clear our minds and hearts to see more clearly what plans he may have for us at Christmas and in the new year about to begin. Like Mary, even if we don’t understand 100%, we must respond in faith and move forward with him.

Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1–5, 8b–12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89:2–5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25–27; Luke 1:26–38.