Finding presents to give is a great adventure, if you love the one to whom you will give the gift. The degree of difficulty depends on the depth of love. A gift for the mailman or business associate is no problem. When we get down the list to family members and then those who are so close to our hearts we don’t know where they begin and we end, well that is more than a problem.
Gifts are expressions of a kind of poverty. The greater the love, the less the gift says it. The greater the love, the longer one looks for and can never find. The greater the love, the more imperfect the gift and accompanying card can say.
These last few days of Advent we can pray while making lists and checking them twice find out whose more than nice. We can pray with the poverty of our gestures of love and smile at the impossibility of our being God. This Thursday, the Feast of the Nativity of the Divine Gift, we will celebrate the Perfect Gift Whom the Giver gives again and the Gift does say it all. We can pray with our being the recipients of that Love wrapped in poverty bundled in abundance. We can pray as well with the reception of love expressed in cards, emails, notes and smiles which are little sacraments preparing us to be more receptive within our own stables.
King David has a bit of a “housing crisis” in today’s First Reading. He is back from the wars, living in luxury while the “Ark of God’ is in a portable container. David has returned the Ark to Jerusalem in a great procession as related in the previous chapter from which our reading is taken. Jerusalem is now the Holy city because of this presence.
David begins thinking that a temple ought to be built expressing this holy presence. Nathan, David’s “private-eye”, receives a message from the Lord. We hear what Nathan heard from God.
There is a significant word-play or double-meaning embedded in this reading. David talks about “house” in terms of building and the Lord speaks of “house” in terms of “descendants” of David. God scoffs at the poverty of David to build a place; God is not localized. There is a prophetic twist then, the “House of David” the family line will bring forth a special personal presence. “When David comes to die God “will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins and I will make his kingdom firm. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. The “house” then is to be the family down through the ages until this special person (the Messiah) takes up residence in the world and forms us into His House.
The Gospel is familiar to us. Jesus takes a fleshly position in favor of Mary and as a favor for us. Mary has a most human response; she is troubled and frightened. As with most of the “call narratives” in scripture, Mary has the perfect excuse in response to the invitation to be a mother. She is not married. The visitor has the perfect solution around her excuse. God will do something that involves faith. She is aided by a pregnant bit of news that her cousin, who herself is advanced in age, is going to have a child as well. Mary’s response to all this is a kind of, “Well, if Elizabeth can then so can I, by the favor of God.”
The messenger shares with Mary the name and mission of this child-to-be. We hear that He will be from the “House of David”. He will be “Joshua” or “He Who Saves”. His kingdom will never end, which fulfills the prophesy of Nathan in our First Reading. The stage is set then. All the ancient prophetic roads lead directly to Nazareth.
I would say that having a visit from an angel with high praise for her and an exact part to play would make it somewhat easy to decide to go along with the program. WE all have had experiences of having to make decisions angelically-unaided. WE get senses or little urgings to move on down the road of faith and we wonder why Mary gets lots of credit, but are not our faith-jumps even more of trust. WE do move though and it is this life-walk, faith-leap that allows for the angels’ visits.
Mary went to visit Elizabeth after Mary had agreed, submitted, responded or simply believed. She took the road home and then in time took the road to Bethlehem where there were angels again and she heard about them from the shepherds. All the time Mary was pondering, listening, reflecting, discerning not only what had been said months before, but what was being offered, revealed, given, and created for her and through her.
This is our pattern as well. Discernment does not lead to decision, that is only the beginning. The God Who calls is faithful and so we are invited to ponder, reflect and sense, as the road unfolds before our feet or wheels. There are “angel-moments” which are real, but not winged and feathery. They are faith-charged with a glimmer of light which indicates and urges gently.
I would like some kind of God-o-gram reassuring me that I am doing God’s Will by being a Jesuit priest in Omaha, at Creighton University and the this-and-that’s of my life are, well what is best, whatever that means. There are little “angel-moments”; I want bing-bang biggos though. The whole problem for me and us and was even for Mary, is that we want certainty, “Gabriel-moments” and more than once. We want map-quest clarity and GPS guidance and then call that journey, FAITH. David wanted to build a house for God. God wanted to build a house among us and did so by entering the house of Mary, taking up residence in the house of her womb, and now pitches His Tent among us as we walk the road of watching.
“The virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and she will call him Emmanuel.” Is. 7, 14
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