4th Sunday of Advent – 24th December 2017

Angels of interruptions

The Messiah will come from the line of David.

Text Video Reflection

“Angels of interruptions”

by Fr John Horan SDB

A story is told about Dean William Ralph Inge, once dean of St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in London.
According to the story, when Inge died, he was ushered into the presence of God.  Jesus came down from God’s right hand and said, “Ah, Mr. Dean, welcome to heaven. I know you have met my father, but I don’t believe you have met my mother.”

Today’s gospel asks us to meet Mary. Tomorrow we meet her new born Son. Without Mary there is no birth and so no Christmas.

Today’s gospel couldn’t be more dramatic. A young girl’s life is turned up-side-down by unexpected, uninvited visit from an angel. Gabriel, God’s High-powered angelic messenger arrived with incredible news.

Unlike today’s cuddly representation of angels. Gabriel’s presence was frightening and seeing Mary’s fear, his first words were “Fear not” These words were apt because the angel was about to ask her to do something that would not only disrupt her own life but later, would turn the world up-side-down.

In Mary’s day, angels, it would seem, were messengers of disruption. In a short pace of time the lives of Mary, Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth were turned upside down. It is very interesting that when the angel came to Mary he didn’t ask her whether she was available for a task or not. Rather he told her what God was already doing in her life.  He said to her,“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

Mary’s invitation was to align herself with what is already happening in her life by the grace of God.  Mary pondered this and said: “Let it be” “Let God’s plan continue”… She had an option to turn away but Mary trusted the plan.

Despite our illusion of control. There are inevitable interruptions in life which do not fit our plans at all.

On this ‘rushed-off-our-feet day before Christmas interruptions can be more stressful. However, The Angels of Advent may be part these interruptions, inviting us to ‘fear not’, slow down, ponder and be surprised by the great things God is already doing in our lives. Like Mary we may be very surprised.

Readings, Reflections & Prayers

Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB

1st Reading – 2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-12,14,16

Once David had settled into his house and the Lord had given him rest from all the enemies surrounding him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘Look, I am living in a house of cedar while the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go and do all that is in your mind, for the Lord is with you.’

But that very night the word of the Lord came to Nathan:

‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in? I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you on all your expeditions; I have cut off all your enemies before you. I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did, in the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel; I will give them rest from all their enemies. The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House. And when your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil, I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’

Reflection

The Messiah will come from the line of David. In today’s reading we hear about David and his plan to build a Temple for God. When he told the prophet Nathan what he wanted to do, the prophet at first agreed. But then God spoke to the prophet in a dream and the whole plan changed. Instead of David building a Temple, God promises to establish a house for David’s line that will last forever. Later, after the collapse of Judah, Nathan’s words were understood as the promise of the Messiah. And so the gospels teach us that Jesus is the long-promised Son of David, the Messiah. Let us rejoice with Mary in his birth!

Prayer

LORD, Adonai, there is no one like you! You made a covenant with David that would never end! You foretold a Son whose reign would last forever! We see Jesus in this promise. Help us to be true to him and to you like our ancestors before us. LORD, be a dear father to us in these days. Give us the wisdom to be your children in spirit and in truth. Send us your Spirit that we may rejoice as we celebrate your Son’s awesome birth! Amen.


Psalm – Psalm 88(89):2-5,27,29

Reflection

Today’s responsorial psalm selects several verses from a psalm associated with the collapse of Judah and the end of David’s line. The psalm opens with a refrain of hope-filled praise: The promises of the LORD I will sing forever; through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness. The message is clear: those who trust in God will be blessed because the divine promise will be kept. In Jesus, that is what we see happening. If you read the whole psalm reflect on verses 9, 27, 41-45 and notice the overlaps with the life of Christ: verse 9 (his rule over the surging sea), verse 27 (he is God’s first-born, the King of kings), verses 41-45 (details of his passion).  There is much fruit for thought here.

Prayer

LORD, Adonai, today we sing of your promises! Today we proclaim your faithful love and thank you for your faithfulness! We believe, LORD, help our unbelief! Grant us the grace to trust your promises, to embrace your wisdom and mercy. Hear our songs of joy in these days! Hear us as we delight in the birth of the Bringer of Life, the Holy One who gifts us with your sublime love and wisdom. Amen.


2nd Reading – Romans 16:25-27

Glory to him who is able to give you the strength to live according to the Good News I preach, and in which I proclaim Jesus Christ, the revelation of a mystery kept secret for endless ages, but now so clear that it must be broadcast to pagans everywhere to bring them to the obedience of faith. This is only what scripture has predicted, and it is all part of the way the eternal God wants things to be. He alone is wisdom; give glory therefore to him through Jesus Christ for ever and ever. Amen.

Reflection

Now we can truly understand the ancient promises. Now we can be strengthened by the good news. Now we can open our hearts to the meaning of Advent. Now we can sing our songs of thanks and praise! Through Jesus Christ we sing glory to the only wise God forever and ever. Amen!

Prayer

Lord Jesus, today we see the ancient promises being kept. Today, we are strengthened by the good news of your coming. We honour you! We acclaim you! We bless you! We praise you! See, we lay our hearts open before you in love. We welcome you! Glorious Father, through Jesus we praise you and thank you! How truly awesome and loving you are! Amen.


Gospel Reading – Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

Reflection

How wonderful it is to read the Annunciation story today and see the promise made in our first reading come to fulfilment. There is something amazing and challenging at work here. Not only is the history of Jesus utterly different to any other history, the line of history itself is broken in him and we are confronted by the reality of his divine origins. There lies the challenge. Can I handle the divine forces at work in the story of Mary’s annunciation? Can I handle the divine forces at work in the story of her Son and his conception? Or do I seek to reduce them to the banal and the fanciful? Am I ready to embrace the deep meaning of Christmas? Am I ready for the implications of believing that in Mary’s yes God has come among us?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we rejoice in the story of your mother and the angel. We exult that Mary said her earth shattering yes to God! We are glad that the Spirit came upon her! We rejoice in your conception, the miraculous way you took root in the world! We delight in the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises! Thank you, Jesus, for taking root in Mary’s womb. Thank you, Mary, for unconditionally opening your heart and life to him! Mary, teach us how to be open as you were! Teach us how to say yes to God for the sake of all creation! Teach us to welcome the Spirit and open our hearts to his love and his way. Amen.

Lectio Divina

Word of God and Salesian Life by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB

The annunciation of the birth of Jesus does not concern only Mary.  The story is presented to us today as an example of how to welcome God when he comes. It is not enough for God to decide to become incarnate.  Unless he finds people who will trust him completely and offer him their whole life, it will be difficult for him to find a home in them. To prepare for the imminent birth of the Son of God, without taking into consideration the responsibility of the believer, would be simply foolish. God is determined to come close to his people and he is in search of people who will believe and will lend him their entire life. It is not enough to know that God has a plan for the salvation of his people or that God will come among us. If we believe that God wants to become man, we cannot ignore this gospel. Instead, like Mary, we must abandon our own plans and allow God to fulfil his plan. Mary is a reminder to us that for God to be born among us, he must find people who believe. God wants to offer us salvation and wants to become son of a woman, but he will be conceived only by someone who accepts him unreservedly, and without any objections.

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

The episode of Nazareth constitutes a literary and theological unit. It tells the story of Mary’s vocation and is, at the same time, the announcement of the salvation that God is about to bring. Mary knew of God’s desire to save his people at the same time that she knew that God was counting on her. The annunciation of the birth of Jesus coincided, then, with Mary’s invitation to become the Mother of God. God’s plan for the salvation of his people coincided with the vocation of Mary, God’s chosen one.

The formal structure of the account is clear: introduction of the people involved (Lk 1,26-27), appearance of the angel and the virgin’s reaction to his greeting (Lk 1,28-29), the angel’s message and Mary’s question (Lk 1,30-34), the angel’s response and Mary’s assent (Lk 1,35-38a). The angel’s entrance (Lk 1,26a) and his departure from the scene (Lk 1,38b) mark the beginning and the end of the episode – an episode in which he always had the initiative and Mary responded gradually, first in contemplation (Lk 1, 29), then with a question (Lk 1,34), and finally with her consent  (Lk 1,38). Three times the angel revealed the divine plan to Mary and three times she responded. Each further revelation brought a deeper acceptance.

It is significant that the account is in the form of a dialogue or conversation. Vocation is an ongoing dialogue in which the initiative comes from God. It is he who chooses a virgin and sends her his messenger, in order to give his people a saviour. The conversation does not end until all resistance to the call has been overcome. The one who does God’s will belongs to God as his son or daughter.

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

In Luke’s account Mary is described as a model of collaboration with God who sought a way of becoming incarnate. From her dialogue with the angel we can learn the response God would like to find in us in order to become close to us in these days. Our life of faith is a struggle to prepare for our face-to-face encounter with God. If we are preparing for our own personal experience of the birth of Son of God, we should take seriously what God wants to say to us, what he is proposing to us, and what he is willing to grant us.  If we declare ourselves ready to accept his will, it is certain that he will let us know that he is close to us, and what he wants of us, and he will ask for our collaboration. Today as in the past, the God who was born of Mary wants, indeed needs, collaborators if he is to be present in our world among his people.

The God of Christmas needs people who believe in him, and listen to him, when he makes known his plan to become incarnate.  This could well be our first point for reflection and maybe also a starting point for personal prayer. The God of Mary is still looking for people who will give him their attention and their lives. Taking this divine need seriously can lead to an unexpected surprise, as it did for Mary: God needs me if he is to enter my world!  It can lead also to an alluring proposal: why not trust him and allow him to enter through us into the lives of those near and dear to us? A God like this who has need of us, who has lowered himself to our level, deserves our trust. A God who asks permission to enter our lives, and who depends on us to come close to others, is to be respected and trusted.

Because Mary said ‘yes’ to God, we today can celebrate his becoming one of us. What would God not be ready to do for us today, for every one of us, if we accepted his will and allowed him a more prominent space in our lives? God who wants to become incarnate in our world continues to look for believers who are ready, like Mary, to allow him into our lives sincerely, totally, and with all our hearts.  With the example of Mary we should ask ourselves if there is something that needs to change in our Christian way of life to make it easier for God to come and meet the people of today. Looking at Mary’s response should make us wonder why God does not become present among us, and why we do not become a bridge for him to become present in our world.

Our world is becoming progressively more godless. Why is it that, even in the hearts of believers, the presence of God is silenced, his voice and his demands are not heard?  We will all celebrate Christmas, perhaps spending far more money than is necessary, but few will ask themselves the meaning of this great feast. The best sentiments that come to us during these days may well be sincere, but often do not last beyond the Christmas season. Undoubtedly there are good reasons for our joy and happiness. The problem is that we often fail to find reason for joy in the fact that God has become man in order to be nearer to us. Celebrating Christmas without finding delight in God’s decision to become man is missing the point.

We need peace, reconciliation and love. We need God if we want peace, reconciliation and love to be lasting and definitive. It seems that at the present time our need is greater and our desire for familiarity more intense. We Christians should not stifle this desire nor underestimate our need for intimacy. The good will that is present in these days, even if somewhat diffused, and the realization that we could be a bit better than we are, or that it would be good for us to become more human, undoubtedly come from God. In becoming human like us he gave us a very good motive for wanting to be better human beings.

More than ever before, our world has need of humanity, fraternity, mutual respect and trust. Where do we stand, we who believe in the God-man? Do we continue to avoid every sign of trust and every test of our humanity?  Do we stifle within us the urge to build a relationship with our neighbour? Do we remain at a distance affectively from the people we meet every day, or, worse still, do we distance ourselves from the people who live around us? How, then, can we celebrate this feast which recalls the decision of God to become a man like us? Believing in a God who became man implies reaching out to our fellow man. It means becoming more human in order to draw closer to God. On the other hand, if we distance ourselves from others, whether consciously or not, we cannot celebrate Christmas as true believers. We celebrate just like all the others without knowing clearly why we celebrate, and nothing will change in our lives.

Today’s Word of God invites us to contemplate Mary. In doing so we realize that to trust God we don’t have to have the most convincing reasons. It is enough to believe for whatever reasons he gives us. His decision to become human like us, to be close to us, obliges us, if we believe him, to give him a place and to make space for him in our daily lives and in our hearts. If we do this, we will become more human, closer to our fellow human beings, as he himself did. Through us God will become closer to the people we live among. Mary’s task – to be the mother of Jesus – is also our task. If we believe, as she did, that God wants to become human, we will be more human towards our fellow humans, and God will be closer to us. We do not have to cease being human to draw nearer to God, because we believe that in Mary God became man. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. May we celebrate it fittingly and well!

IMAGE

AngelsOfInterruptions