Dec 16, 2011

4th Sunday of Advent: God "Pays himself forward"

Tissot: The Annunciation - "Hail full of grace . . ."

2 Sm 7: 1-5,8b-12, 14a, 16
Rm 16: 25-27
Lk 1: 26-38

A movie which became very popular because of a simple but potentially life changing concept came out in the year 2000 by the name of: Pay it forward.  The story was of an 11 year old boy named Trevor from a broken home due to divorce. One day in his seventh grade class his social studies teacher gave the an assignment to devise and put into action a plan that will change the world for the better.
While that may indeed sound daunting, young Trevor presented a plan for a charitable program based on the networking of good deeds.  He called his plan “pay it forward,” which meant that the recipient of a good favor does a like favor for a third party rather than paying the favor back.  The good you have received is then passed on to another who did not do anything particularly good to you.

One can see the potential however ideal it may sound.  Trusting in the good will of others who are moved by goodness themselves, the exponential power of increasing the level of goodness in the world is obvious.  This Sunday, as we begin this final week of Advent, we hear of an even grander plan that indeed will increase good in the world. And that divine plan is begun through the cooperation of an unknown teenage girl in an even more obscure region of ancient Israel. What could be more mysterious than that? It is not the way any one of us would want to achieve success.

In the familiar and beautifully simple event of the annunciation, in the visit of a heavenly messenger, we hear of one who is “full of grace” and one who should “not be afraid” for she has “found favor with God.”  Mary is about to be the recipient of a profound good deed from God himself: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus . . .”(Lk 1). 

And this will be no ordinary plan and no ordinary child. He “will be great” and be of royal lineage. God is about to pay forward, through Mary, a new age and a new vision of social order between God and humanity.  Mary’s child, God’s own Son, will initiate a plan to change the world. And Mary assents to God’s plan, “Be it done to me according to your word.”
Besides the salvation of humanity in this story and Mary who becomes the first to hear of that salvation “gift,” what is at stake here?  It is Mary’s own honor before her fellow Jews. Not only is Mary’s promised virginity at stake but also her reputation. As it often seems of the lowly and unknown, God asks a great deal but promises even more. 

Our first reading from the Book of Samuel has King David feeling a bit guilty over his lavish accommodations in comparison to the tent in the desert where the ark has been housed. A more worthy place for the ark to rest must be provided. Yet, God offers David more than just a dwelling place.  He now offers him a covenant and a promise: “I will raise up your heir after you . . . 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 . . .”

It is an extravagant promise and we can hear the allusion to a future time and a future royal person who will become the dwelling place of God among humanity.  God is searching for a true King who will be loyal to his will and will make that happen through the line of David’s lineage.  Astounding, really.  
Who is that person?  Christ Jesus of course but who entered this reality of time and space through a perfect, virginal human mother named Mary. Mary here becomes the fulfillment of David’s desire for a more worthy “house” or tabernacle where God is present. In Mary God “pitched his tent” among us, as scripture translators have told us from the original Greek, and entered our world so that we might enter his.

Mary’s honor then becomes one that is not protected by her marriage to Joseph directly but saved through God himself who is the divine father of her human son. The arranged marriage to Joseph, once he found confidence in the origin of Mary’s child, certainly provided a socially acceptable protection for Mary who together with him, provided the necessary religious and human formation for Jesus through their marriage and family life in Nazareth.

So, we have heard in this Advent journey from Isaiah the prophet who foretold the coming of the Messiah, John the Baptist who proclaimed his immenent presence with the call to “make ready the way of the Lord,” now Mary and the Angel provide for us that prophecy fulfilled and the birth of the King in David’s royal line who this time will get it right after Adam’s failure and David’s limited success.

In this final week, it may be good to take some time out and ponder these mysteries that no matter how many times we hear them, never loose life and inspiration.  Pay it forward so others may come to know this good news.

The whole process of the Christian message has been a passing on from generation to generation the good news of the goodness of God, his divine forgiveness and charity which has been passed on for others for all time until he comes again. In the gift of the Eucharist, Christ becomes our food so that we might pass on to others the force of his good. 

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross,
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

(Collect 4th Sunday of Advent)