Reflection on the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
Only one more week until Christmas, and that of course means there’s only one more week to fret about Christmas shopping before the start of the after-Christmas sales. One more week to rack up credit card debt, to wrap the presents, to hide them from intrepid children, to brave the malls, to start looking at one and two day shipping options online. Thankfully, nothing will be impossible for God. If God is with us, just imagine what feats of consumption we can accomplish!
Then again, maybe there’s another way to look at it. The first reading for this Sunday, the Lord tells Nathan to tell David:
And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.
And Paul, as his masterful letter to the Romans draws to a close, writes:
To him who can strengthen you…
to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ
be glory forever and ever.
Both of these readings point to the coming kingdom of God, a kingdom that will reign forever. That which we have waited for, all these centuries and millennia, is coming and will last forever. And when Gabriel speaks to Mary, he tells her much the same thing about the child she will bear:
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.
Jesus will rule will forever, an excessive and gratuitous gift, out of proportion even with the seemingly interminable wait for his coming. Yet Mary’s question to Gabriel is not about eternity, it’s not about God’s reign, it’s not about the House of David. It’s actually quite to the point:
How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?
She doesn’t seem to wonder why the Lord found favor with her or why she should bear the savior of the world. Her question is simple, perhaps even obvious – how can this happen if I am a virgin? How can God do the impossible? And Gabriel tells her two things: he explains the how, as mysterious as it may seem, but he also points to her cousin Elizabeth. Even now, as this impossible thing happens with you, so too your cousin, older and barren, is with child. Already God is making all things new.
This Christmas, as we fret over what to get one another, whether they’ll like it, whether we need the gift return receipt, let us reflect even more deeply on the sheer gratuity of God’s gift to us. Just as “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19), so too do we give to one another because God first gave to us.