The Fourth Sunday of Advent [B]

First Reading II Samuel 7:1-5,8-12,14,16
Second Reading Romans 16:25-27
Gospel Luke 1:26-38

“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

King David seems to be a humble man. He appears, in our First Reading, to want to set things right. And both of these virtues—humility and justice—are at the heart of the Advent Season, modeled by John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary. So perhaps the Church proclaims our First Reading today, on this final Sunday of Advent, to hold King David up as a model for us. Or perhaps not.

Perhaps not, given the Lord’s response to King David. “Settled in his palace [after] the Lord had given him rest from his enemies”, King David cries out in concern about his own dwelling being richer than the Lord’s. In the fullness of His divinity, God dwells in Heaven, of course, but in some mysterious manner God had dwelt on earth since the time of Moses, within the Ark of the Covenant. King David is referring to this Ark when he cries out, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the Ark of God dwells in a tent!” The Lord responds with a rhetorical question that unlocks the meaning of the First Reading: “Should you build me a house to dwell in?”

We realize that this is a rhetorical question because the rest of the Lord’s words reveal King David’s intention to be just too small. The Lord turns David’s intention upside down. The Lord reveals all that He is going to accomplish for His servant David: “I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.” “I will give you rest from all your enemies.” And finally, speaking of Himself in the third person: “The Lord also reveals to you that He will establish a house for you.” But the Lord’s ways are not man’s ways, the Lord’s house is not David’s house, and the house the Lord builds is not built according to man’s ways. The Lord’s house is not built of cedar, brick, marble or stone, but of living stones that are far more precious.

One thousand years after David’s time, the Lord raised up David’s most important heir. “Gabriel was sent from God… to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David”. Gabriel hails Mary as being “full of grace”, and says to her, “the Lord is with you.” Then Gabriel explains to Mary that the Lord God will give Mary’s son the throne of David his father, and that there will be no end to his kingdom.

But Mary responds simply with a sincere question. She has no noble plans as does King David, but only a question for the Lord: “How can this be?” Gabriel answers honestly when he replies that “the Power of the Most High will overshadow you,” and that “therefore the child to be born will be… the Son of God.” Had Mary been full of ironic skepticism like so many of us, she might well have replied, “Well thanks, Gabriel, that explains everything!” St. Gabriel had only added mystery to mystery. He had not, in human fashion, made clear the “How” of the Incarnation. But he had made clear the divine “Why”: that in the Incarnation, the Lord is fulfilling His promise to “establish a house for you.”

Mary’s response is simple. Mary’s response is a model for your own life as a disciple of Jesus. King David, at least in today’s First Reading, is not a model for your life. David believes that serving God starts with David’s plans. But Mary is different. The two sentences that make up her response are really nothing more than an extended definition of the Hebrew word “Amen”. Too often as believers, we add the word “Amen” to the end of a prayer mindlessly, no more thoughtfully than when, with pencil in hand, we mark a period at the end of a sentence. But the word “Amen” is our profession that we personally accept everything that’s been said in the prayer. The Blessed Virgin Mary, in speaking her words to St. Gabriel, models what she commends at the Wedding at Cana: “Do whatever He tells you.” Mary follows this counsel herself in declaring, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”