Dec 20, 2014

4th Sunday of Advent: "The Great Amen!"

2 Sam 7: 1-5, 8b – 12, 14a, 16

Rm 16: 25-27

Lk 1: 26-38

One of the most beautiful and enduring pieces of music is a grand masterpiece by the English composer George Frideric Handel entitled “The Messiah.”  If you have never heard the entire work done professionally by choir and orchestra buy all means go!  We often think of the great “Hallelujah Chorus.” But, the truth is that glorious choral piece does not come until the last part of the entire work.

After sweeping orchestra, chorus and solo parts which begin with the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah, Handel take us from the birth of Christ, to his life, passion, death, resurrection (Hallelujah!) and ends with a grand choral harmony on the second coming. I personally feel the work was inspired.

But how would you appropriately end such a masterpiece? With the grand tone of trumpets? Yes, but this timeless work concludes with simply one word – “Amen.” Yet that great Amen goes on for more than four minutes.  As the entire piece concludes, the chorus and orchestra move the listeners with the longest and most uplifting “Amen you can imagine.  I personally feel it’s a fit ending for such a dramatic story – the story of the Incarnation, God’s entrance to our lives:  Amen – so be it!”  His will is done.

This Sunday, our last on the Advent journey towards that great moment when the Word of God is born in time and space, we hear the familiar encounter when Mary, the one “full of grace,” is visited by the Angel Gabriel to seek her cooperation with God’s mysterious plan.  On a human level, we cannot help but wonder what went through Mary’s mind and heart. The Angel as messenger of God, does not pressure or dupe Mary in any way.  He respects her, compliments her, reveals God’s desire and hope, then waits for Mary’s response. The Angel comforts and assures Mary, “Do not be afraid.” What will she say?

The Gospels are silent on Mary before she appears on the scene.  We know nothing about her personal life only that she was young, lived in Nazareth and was “betrothed to a man named Joseph.”  Nothing especially outstanding about that, so we can assume that Mary’s hope was to live according to the Jewish custom of her day and that she intended to live a normal, Middle Eastern, Jewish life formed by the sacred law of God. 

Mary was clearly surprised by the Angel’s visit.  She was fearful, perhaps more awestruck and confused initially.  Luke implies such in this scene. Which tells us that this moment, this event was entirely the work of God. God took the ordinary and transformed it though his grace to something extraordinary. Yet the true nature of Mary’s hidden sinless character is revealed in her response. Though she was the Immaculate Conception, no one had a clue of that in her time.

Mary finally offers her  – “Amen.  So be it – “may it be done to me according to your word.”  Mary’s great “Amen” in that moment changed the course of human history.  Through her total cooperation with God’s request, Mary opened the door so that God might enter.  Did the Angel smile in response to Mary’s “yes?”  Only she would know.

Handel’s “Amen” ended his grand piece with beauty and hope. Mary’s “Amen” began for humanity a new relationship that we could once again be friends with God. Her simple life and trusting faith allowed God to do his grand “Amen.”

By contrast, our first reading relates the story of King David, the most honored in Jewish history, who did not live in the obscurity of tiny Nazareth but in the palace of Jerusalem.  When David realized that his comfortable surroundings were grander than where the “ark of God” rested, he desired to do something about it.  But God spoke through the prophet Nathan and reminded King David that God’s desire was not to rest in a physical house but that the Lord “will establish a house for you. . .” and that this “house and your kingdom shall endure forever.”  (2 Sm 7: 16). God’s plans were greater than any house King David might construct.

That “house” of David was brought to completion through the line of David and ultimately born in Jesus, the son of Mary.  In Jesus’ conception and birth, God alone will join humanity and divinity forever and that will extend far beyond the line of David to include us and those beyond our time.    

So close to Christmas we are busy about many things for sure: mailing last minute Christmas cards or finally getting around to shopping for last minute gifts or final plans on Christmas dinner and family gatherings.  All these are good things.

Yet, the readings this last Sunday of Advent offer us a moment to consider God’s intervention or some may say interruption in our daily lives.  Certainly for Mary she consented to something that she couldn’t possibly understand fully.  Like our lives, God’s plan is revealed day by day.  But in the end, we are reminded that it is all God’s work if we allow it to be.  God’s grace may be undeserving but our God thinks we deserve it anyway.

Mary’s “Amen” stands as a model for our lives as well.  Where have we seen God operating in our lives this past year?  How often did we say “amen” or did we doubt or decide otherwise?  Christmas is God reaching down to us.  Are we willing to grasp his hand and walk with him?