We have now come to the last Sunday of Advent and we are in the immediate preparations for Christmas. Each year Christmas seems to come around quicker and quicker and it is as if Advent hardly lasts any time at all.
Perhaps we have become over preoccupied with the practical preparations for Christmas, but we should be careful not to let ourselves to become so distracted that we neglect to prepare ourselves to celebrate this season in a truly spiritual way.
Actually the Readings today help us to properly prepare for Christmas and on this last Sunday of Advent they are extremely interesting.
The first reading is about King David who is the most famous of the Kings of Israel. We remember how his predecessor King Saul lost favour in the eyes of God and we recall how the Prophet Samuel then chose David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, and anointed him as Saul’s successor. From that moment David grew from being an insignificant shepherd boy to a man of great stature.
We recall how he killed the giant, Goliath, by hitting him on the forehead with a stone from his sling. As a result Saul made David commander of his armies and gave him his daughter Michal in marriage. We remember too David’s famous friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan.
When both Saul and Jonathan died in battle David was then proclaimed King. He made Jerusalem his capital and took the Ark of the Covenant to reside there. As we heard in our first reading David had a great desire to build a temple for the Lord in Jerusalem; but the Prophet Nathan tells him that he is not to build a house for God to dwell in, but instead God would build a house for him. By this he means that he would grant David a great family of descendants; we call this the House of David.
We Christians have always considered ourselves to be part of David’s house and line, not through direct biological lineage like the Jews but through a deep spiritual lineage. It remains very important that Jesus himself can directly trace his ancestors back to King David because it was firmly believed that the Messiah was to be a Son of David.
Since we are the spiritual descendants of Jesus we regard ourselves as being spiritual descendants of King David too.
According to the Jewish people the coming Messiah would incorporate many of the best characteristics of King David and his rule would unite the People of Israel and inaugurate a time of universal peace and brotherhood.
Of course, we now see how the Kingdom of God as inaugurated by Jesus Christ goes far beyond anything the Jewish people could ever have conceived. Christ’s is no purely earthly Kingdom but is rather one which unites heaven and earth as well as past, present and future.
Ultimately the Kingdom of God is all the people of the earth from all the ages gathered in worship around God’s throne.
In the Gospel reading we are told the story of the Annunciation as given to us by Luke the Evangelist. We hear the story of how the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is to be the mother of the Son of God. We hear too how Mary agrees to this divine proposal in her most beautiful words, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me.’
The Church places these two readings from scripture before us today because there is a very strong link between them.
It is understandable that David wants to build a temple for the Lord but he is told that this is not to be his task. It is a role eventually given to his son Solomon who constructs a fabulous temple in Jerusalem, but his Temple only lasts about four hundred years and was in fact completely demolished by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. A second temple was built after the Jewish people returned from exile in Babylon, but this in turn was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD and was never rebuilt.
The lesson we have to draw from these events is that these earthly temples, while being important places of worship in their day, were essentially material constructions. What we realise is that God cannot be housed in a world of his own creation. As an entirely spiritual entity God cannot be contained within four walls. God exists completely outside time and space; it is he who gives shelter to the world and not the world which gives shelter to God.
This brings us to Mary and to the account of her Annunciation. After many generations it is she who eventually gives a home to the Son of God in her womb. This is a role for which she is specially chosen and prepared by God. It is she who becomes the real temple, the true dwelling place of God’s only Son.
As we have seen God exists entirely outside the material world and yet he chooses to enter the world and occupy the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary in order to achieve his purposes, namely our salvation.
Mary is prepared for this unique task through her Immaculate Conception so that she could be free from sin and worthy enough to carry Christ in her womb. Moreover, the special graces given to her enabled her to be preserved from sin throughout her life.
We too become sharers in this great mystery because God sends his Spirit into our hearts and so lives within us. This is one of the ongoing results of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that occurred on the first Pentecost Day.
As we were taught as children, this makes us Temples of the Holy Spirit. This wonderful gift helps us each one of us to live grace filled lives and to be faithful to the message of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
We see now how the two readings link up. We see why David was commanded not to build a temple; we see how Mary herself became the true temple and indeed we see too how we ourselves share in this great gift to the world.
This is the last Sunday before Christmas and this year seems to flow into Christmas; nevertheless, it marks an important stage in our preparation for the Feast of the Nativity.
It is a day on which we reflect on the great span of history involved in preparing for Christ’s coming into our world. It is a day on which we come to a greater realisation of Mary’s particular role in God’s plan for the salvation of the world. It is a day which reminds us how deeply we too are involved in in this plan and how intimately we are connected to Christ and to his Mother Mary.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket