FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (B)

December 20, 2020

FIRST READING (2 Samuel 7: 1-5, 8-11, 16)

When King David was settled in his palace, and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies on every side, he said to Nathan the prophet, "Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!" Nathan answered the king, "Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the Lord is with you." But that night the Lord spoke to Nathan and said: "Go, tell my servant David, 'Thus says the Lord: Should you build me a house to dwell in?' "'It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth. I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance. Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old, since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies. The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I 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. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever."

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 89: 2-5, 27, 29)

Refrain: For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

1) The promises of the Lord I will sing forever; through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.
For you have said, "My kindness is established forever"; in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness. (Refrain:)

2) "I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity and establish your throne for all generations." (Refrain:)

3) "He shall say of me, 'You are my father, my God, the Rock, my savior.'
Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him, and my covenant with him stands firm." (Refrain:)

SECOND READING (Romans 16: 25-27)

Brothers and sisters: To Him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen.

GOSPEL (Luke 1: 26-38)

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “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 called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.

The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL. This resource is available at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.)

Homily

An Angel Sent by God

In today's gospel passage, we heard those familiar words about the angel Gabriel who "was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph...The virgin's name was Mary." But who are these beings called "angels"? The word "angel" comes from the Greek word "angelos" which means "a bearer of good news"or "messenger". In essence, an angel is one who is sent by another person for a certain purpose. But God's messengers don't have to be of the heavenly variety.

In last week's gospel passage, we heard these words: "There was a man named John who was sent by God, who came as a witness to testify to the light". In last week's first reading from Isaiah we heard this: "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly." Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God constantly sent prophets to speak his message to the Israelites. Even in today's first reading, God speaks to Nathan the prophet and sends him to relay his message to David.

So it is that humans, as well as angels, can "be sent by God" for a certain purpose. But what about these angels? What do we know about them? Well, as we already have seen in today's gospel, they convey messages. But angels do much more than that. John Calvin had this to say about angels:

Thus do we come to believe in what are called "guardian angels". But there is more. Sometimes angels can appear remarkably like ourselves. One author puts it this way:

And such experiences don't have to be limited to persons in the Bible. Sometimes even us modern day persons have experiences like this. Perhaps like the woman in this story did.

Based on all this, we can see that the line between angel and human can sometimes be very blurred indeed. Humans can act like angels and angels can look like humans. In the movie It's A Wonderful Life, an angel named Clarence saves George Bailey from committing suicide. When they are drying off in the bridge house, George asks Clarence who he is. Clarence responds that he is an angel who has been sent to save him. So it is, whether in the movies or on television shows like Touched By an Angel or in the experiences of people like Gretchen, angels do not necessarily have to look like they do in paintings with wings and bright, flowing clothes. They could look just like one of us.

Earlier, I had mentioned some of those whom God had sent in the past, including the prophets like Isaiah, John the Baptist and the Angel Gabriel. But of course, the most important of the ones whom God has sent was his own Son, Jesus Christ, who became one like us and took our flesh upon himself so that he could show us how to live. And if we live according to the principles that he has taught us, then we become his messengers to the world. Then we become his "angels".

Later on in It's a Wonderful Life, when Clarence explains to George that he is an angel, George asks him where his wings are. Clarence responds that he has to earn them, which is why he came back to earth to save George. And even later in the movie while they are at a bar, Clarence reminds George that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

As we prepare to celebrate the day when Christ become one like us, we ought to refocus our lives so that we become better "messengers of the word of God". And we become true angels of the word of God by following the example which Christ himself has provided us, namely, through the love and forgiveness that we show to family members, relatives, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Are you an angel sent by God into the lives of these men and women who interact with you on a daily basis or do you need more work on your wings? And if you do need more work on them, what better time to work on them than the present. Who knows, maybe someday someone might address you by asking "Is that you, angel??"And then one day further in the future, you might discover that the one for whom the bell rings is you!

References

1. Excerpted from 1000 Windows copyright 1997 by Robert C. Shannon, Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, OH. From the Bible Illustrator, Parsons Technology, Omaha, NE. (This resource, as well as many others, is available at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.)

2. from God's Angels Need No Wings, copyright 1979 by Claus Westerman. Fortress Press, Nashville, TN. Now out of print.

3. The Angel's Gift. Reprinted with the author's permission from Where Angels Walk: True Stories of Heavenly Visitors. Copyright 1992 by Joan Wester Anderson, Barton and Brett Publishers. Also included in Chicken Soup for the Couple's Soul, copyright 1999 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Mark and Chris Donnelly, and Barbara De Angelis, pp. 326-328. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL. (Both of these resources, as well as many others including a specially-priced package of the Chicken Soup books, are available at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.)

(Copyright 2014 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at deaconsil@comcast.net.)

Homily

Be It Done Unto Me

"Be it done unto me according to your word."

The Spirit of God answered the prayers of the boys and encouraged Elizabeth to do something which she had hesitations about doing. Likewise, the Spirit worked through the angel Gabriel who was "sent from God' to help assuage Mary's fears and accomplish God's will.

It is our Lord's perfect act of obedience to the Father's will on the cross which redeems us from all of our acts of disobedience to the Father's will. However, this act would not have been possible if Mary had not first consented to do the Father's will as it was manifested to her by the angel Gabriel. Mary had no way of knowing what her "fiat" would require of her. But just from the gospels, we can see that her parenthood was tested on several occasions, as when Jesus was lost in the temple, or in the flight into Egypt. Of course the most difficult part of her obedience was watching her son die on the cross.

There are two songs whose verses have brought me a greater awareness of what Mary's "fiat" demanded of her, especially at Calvary. The first song is called I Sing a Maid, and the first verse paraphrases today's gospel reading.

The second verse takes us right to Calvary with Mary.

It is said that there is no death on earth worse than one that is suffered alone and in shame. There was probably no pain harder for her to bear than not being able to take her son in her arms and comfort him. Consider that when someone we love is in the hospital, we make special efforts to be with them to comfort them and possibly make their pain more tolerable. And certainly when someone is dying, that person's family will sacrifice everything to be with them at the moment of death to ease their passage into the next life. In the movie Steel Magnolias, Sally Field, who portrayed the mother of a dying daughter, refused to leave her daughter's side until all hope was gone for her recovery, lest her daughter wake up for two minutes and she wasn't there. In another scene in the hospital, she was pictured as simply holding her daughter's almost lifeless hand. Our Lady could do nothing more than to stand helplessly at a distance and watch her son accomplish what had been predestined by God since before the dawn of creation.

In another song to Mary which highlights her role as mother, there is this verse:

If the crucified suffered a shameful death, how shameful it was also for the mother of the crucified, and yet Mary was present throughout her son's agony on the cross. Then finally "in the darkest hour of all she held her son again", as depicted in the beautiful statue by Michaelangelo, the "Pieta".

As difficult as it was, Mary accepted God's will throughout her life. For our Lord also, drinking of the cup in the Garden of Gethsemane was not easy, when he sweated drops of blood at the very thought of what he was about to endure. It should be no wonder then that accepting God's will in our own lives can often be difficult. Again, in Steel Magnolias, there is the scene in the cemetary in which Sally Field vents her anger at the loss of her child at such a young age. Life wasn't fair. There may be times when we find the cup we have been given very bitter to drink. But our faith must be strong, as Mary's example has shown us.

As we prepare for Christmas, reflecting on our Lord's death on the cross is not something we normally do. However, we need to remember that before the babe was born in Bethlehem, before Mary consented to do God's will, yes even before a single atom of creation existed, God foresaw the cross. And, despite that awareness, the Word of God decided that creating us would be a good thing to do. How immense is God's love for us, how beyond measure it is.

I wanted to close with one last thought. In the gospels Jesus said that all who keep the will of the Father are his mother, his father, his sister and his brother. As we will hear at the later masses on Christmas day in the gospel reading from John, Jesus is the Word of God. Just as Mary gave flesh to the Word of God in Jesus, so we must take his Word into our hearts and give him flesh through our obedience to his Word, just as Mary was obedient to God's will. In our own lives we can do no better than respond to God's will with Mary's words: Be it done unto me according to your word.

References:

1. "I Knew You Would Come", by Elizabeth King English. Guideposts, December 1995, pp. 33-35. (Quoted in Dynamic Preaching, Seven Worlds Corporation, 310 Simmons Road, Knoxville, Tn. 37922.) [Dynamic Preaching is modestly-priced subscription service ($45 by disk or in print) may be purchased through the Homiletic Resource Center or by clicking the link above. But I highly recommend it, if for nothing else than the great illustrations it contains every week!]

2. I Sing a Maid. Text by M. D. Ridge, tune: The Flight of the Earls (copyright 1987, GIA Publications, Chicago, Il. 60638).

3. Where Love Is Found. Text by Fred Pratt Green (copyright 1979 by Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, Il. 60188). Tune by Arnold Sherman (copyright 1987 by AMSI, Minneapolis, MN. 55408)

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (B)

December 20, 2020

Penitential Rite

Lord Jesus, you are the Word made flesh through the obedience of your Mother Mary. Lord, have mercy.

Christ Jesus, you have called us to make you flesh in the world through our own obedience to your Word. Christ, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you have called us to prepare a place in our hearts for your coming. Lord, have mercy.

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (B)

December 20, 2020

Prayers of the Faithful

Celebrant: Through her obedience to the will of God which was conveyed by the Angel Gabriel, Mary gave flesh to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Because he understands our needs as only a brother can and will intercede for us, we can confidently bring our prayers and petitions to the Father.

Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, come and save us".

That the leaders of the Church will help us to prepare our hearts as a fitting place for the Lord, we pray to the Lord.

That the leaders of the nations of the world will do all in their power to bring peace on earth, we pray to the Lord.

That the sick, the terminally ill and those who find the holidays a difficult time because they are grieving the loss of a loved one, will come to know the peace that only the Christ Child can bring, we pray to the Lord.

That the members of our parish community will joyfully respond to the will of God with the faith and trust of Mary, we pray to the Lord.

That we will bear witness to our faith every day of our lives by all that we say and do, we pray to the Lord.

That all of our brothers and sisters will be treated as our equals in the sight of God regardless of their race, color, nationality or religion, we pray to the Lord.

That all of those who have contracted the Corona virus will be healed, that those who have died will be welcomed into the loving arms of their Savior who suffered for them and that their grieving families will find strength in their faith, we pray to the Lord.

That we will remember in a special way at this time of year all of our beloved faithful departed who now sing forever of the goodness of the Lord in their eternal dwelling place in heaven, we pray to the Lord.

For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.

Celebrant: Loving Father, your Son was given flesh because a young maiden allowed your will to be accomplished in her through the power of your Spirit. Grant us the grace and power of your Spirit to be able to follow her example and accept your will in our own lives. We ask this through Christ, your Son and our Lord. Amen.