Sunday Homilies by Fr. Rudolf V. Dí Souza

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4th Sunday in Advent
December 21, 2008 Year: B
2 Sam. 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Rom16:25-27; Lk. 1:26-38
Here I am, the servant of the Lord

First Reading...
"Now when David, the king, was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all the enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, 'See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.' Nathan said to the king, 'Go, do all that you have in mind, for the Lord is with you.'

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 'Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel: and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you: and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.

'And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies.

'Moreover the Lord declares to you, David, that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.

'I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne, David, shall be established forever.' [2 Sam. 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16]

Second Reading...
"To God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith - to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen. [Rom. 16:25-7] 

Gospel Reading...
"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.

And the angel came to Mary and said, 'Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.' But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel 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.'

'He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.'

Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I am a virgin?' The angel said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.

'And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.' Then Mary said, 'Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.' Then the angel departed from her." [Lk. 1:26-38]

Not too long ago in a place not too far away, a field mouse asked a wise old owl what is the weight of a snowflake. "Why nothing more than nothing," answered the owl.

The mouse went on to tell the owl about the time he was resting on a branch in a fir tree, counting each snowflake until the number was exactly 3 million, 471 thousand, 952. Then with the settling of the very next flakeócrack. The branch suddenly snapped, tumbling mouse and snow to the ground. "Humph ÖSuch was the weight of nothing," said the mouse.

So the next time you think your contributions, your acts of charity, your works for justice, your gifts of love, and your talents are nothing, or that they are small in comparison to those of others, remember that when one is added to another, and then to another and so forth, great things can happen from nothing. In the same way, what seems to be ordinary can be transformed into something extraordinary with just a little extra nothing.

Your mission is to create great things once again out of nothingness, to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Some years ago a vandal attacked Michelangeloís Pietŗ with a hammer, seriously damaging the face and arm of the figure of Mary. A magazine article suggested that the act was a parable of the violence done Mary by the church - by Roman Catholics who have idolized her and by Protestants who have ignored her. While Protestants have criticized Catholics for coming close to ascribing to Mary the lead role in Godís salvation drama. Protestants could be accused of making her into a prop. But we can be thankful that Lukeís witness to the annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) stands as a corrective.

What comes to mind at the mention of Mary, Jesusí mother? Pale blue? Alabaster statues? An unnatural look of chaste perfection? Sneers about front-yard grottoes and dashboard figurines? In Mary in the New Testament (Fortress, 1978) , in which collaborating Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars examine what the churches and the New Testament have said about Mary, the authors confess that neither Catholic nor Protestant tradition and practice have done Mary justice. The volume chases down a host of unbiblical doctrines, some all the way to the second century. Heresy-prone ascetics used the virgin birth to develop the illegitimate dogma that chastity is a higher calling than marriage. Yet the idea of Maryís perpetual virginity became so popular that in the late fourth century the faithful greeted with horror two pro-marriage churchmenís suggestion that it was biblically and historically justifiable to believe that, following Jesusí birth, Mary had children by her husband just as any other wife would. An outraged Jerome, then the churchís leading biblical scholar, proposed that the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in the Bible were really cousins. The simple, humble woman who gave birth in a barn would come to be hailed by one fifth-century writer as the one from whom came forth the divine power which created heaven and earth. "Mother of God," a title intended to stress Christís full humanity and divinity, came to be taken literally. Mary became a mother goddess.

Lukeís account shows the parallels between the announcement to Mary and the foretelling to Zechariah of Johnís birth. In both scenes the angel Gabriel brings word and is greeted with fear. Both Zechariah and Mary are addressed by name, urged not to fear and told they are about to become parents of sons, each under extraordinary circumstances. They are given their childrenís names, an interpretation of the names and predictions of the childrenís future. When Zechariah and Mary each wonder aloud how such things could happen, each is given a sign that will bear out the prediction. Wondrous, indeed. But similar things have happened before, such as Ishmaelís birth to Hagar in Genesis 16 and Isaacís birth to Sarah in Genesis 17. Similar details surround the birth of Samson in Judges.

ĎThe Holy Spirit will come over you," the angels told Mary. Only when discovering a point before salvation history, before time, before anything, does the Bible use similar language.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void and darkness was on the face of the deep; and the spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters [Gen. 1:1-2].

As Godís Spirit moved over the void before it was filled with the heavens and the earth, so the same spirit overshadowed Mary to place within her Godís own Son. As Karl Barth stressed, human initiative (particularly that of the human male) is excluded. It is not conception at all: it is creation.

Although Luke emphasizes Godís initiative, he also records the human response. "I am the handmaid of the Lord," Mary pledged. "let it be to me according to your word." Luke recalls this when relating two other incidents. In chapter 8, when Jesus is told that his mother and brothers await him, he replies that his mother and brothers are those who hear and do Godís word. Then in chapter 11, when a well-meaning woman pronounces blessings on Jesusí mother, Jesus responds that the blessed are those who hear and do Godís word. These stories by Luke (who is fairest to women of all the evangelists) portray Mary as the first disciple. Indeed, in Lukeís second volume, she is listed among those huddled in the upper room (Acts 1). In Here I Stand, Roland Bainton wrote that Martin Luther saw three miracles in Christís nativity: God became human, a virgin conceived and Mary believed. In Lutherís mind, the greatest was the last.

Luke perceived Mary as a significant role model for all of us. We discover anew each day that we have trusted in people and things that canít deliver and, like Lukeís original readers, we need direction and hope. Luke points us to Mary. He presents her not as a goddess, nor a stiff statue gathering cobwebs in a musty cathedral, nor a plastic figurine molded with a sweet and innocent countenance to stand lifeless in a coffee-table crŤche. Lukeís Mary is a genuine example of faith acted out in discipleship and response to Godís word.

If Maryís ears had been less keen and her soul less willing, she might not have understood. If her eyes had been able to see only the broad, bold outlines of trial, tragedy, rejection and hardship, she might not have sensed the divine presence or heard Godís word of grace and favor. But she heard and responded, even to such an odd call in such a common hour of life. Her story reminds us that the oddest, most inglorious moments are packed with the annunciation of Godís presence and Godís call to serve.

Your mission is to create great things once again out of nothingness, to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary

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