Those of you who are fans of The Sound of Music will know that to begin at the beginning is a very good place to start. This morning’s Gospel does exactly that, by going back to the Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the beginning of the story of Christmas. As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth in a few days time,it is only natural to return to the point of His Conception to help us to ponder the wonderful mystery which God accomplishes for our sake.
Our Old Testament reading this morning begins and ends with promises about houses. It starts with King David concerned about the fact that while he lives in a fine palace, the Ark of the Covenant dwells in a tent. Such unease is understandable, and arises out of a desire to give the best to God. David is concerned that he is not doing so, and says:
“See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” (2 Samuel 7:2)
So David plans to build God a Temple. To begin with, it appears that David’s plan to build a Temple is acceptable, but quickly we learn that this is not the case. At a fundamental level, God is not concerned whether he lives in a tent or a temple. It does not matter. God’s response is not to accept David’s offer, but instead to make an offer to David:
Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom… I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son… And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me. Your throne shall be established for ever.’” (2 Samuel 7:11-12, 14, 16)
God offers David a family, a Royal House a promise which he will keep, and which bears fruit with the coming of Jesus, born of the House of David, and the Son of God. Not only this but Jesus’ mother Mary will be the Ark of the New Covenant. This will be a covenant that is not made in stone, but rather in flesh; the flesh of the Son of God, who is born for us, and who dies for us. Her womb will be the place where the Son of God will begin to dwell with us:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa 7:14)
Immanuel in Hebrew means ‘God (is) with us’ and this is what we are preparing to celebrate at Christmas: God being among us.
Ours is a God who keeps his promises, and so St Paul can speak of:
the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations (Rom 16:25-26)
For a moment I would like you to imagine how would you feel if one day a complete stranger turned up on your doorstep and told you something strange and unexpected? Surprised? Confused? Afraid? The fact that you are a teenage girl would most likely intensify these feelings. When you add to this the fact that the girl will conceive a child outside marriage, something for which she could be stoned to death, according to the Law of Moses, the Gospel passage which we have just heard should strike us as odd, and unsettling: this isn’t how God is supposed to work, it isn’t supposed to be like this. There is an unexpected strangeness strangeness about how God comes into the world.
At one level this is not surprising, because God does not follow human rules. He makes this clear through the prophet Isaiah:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. (Isa 55:8)
In the Annunciation God demonstrates this. Mary is confused, she cannot understand what is going on. So the angel Gabriel says ‘Paid ag ofni, Do not be afraid’. Mary does not need to be afraid because God is doing something wonderful. She will bear a son and call him Jesus, which means ‘God saves’. Jesus the Son of God will save God’s people from their sins, and the promise made to David we heard in our first reading will be fulfilled.
Mary cannot understand how this will happen. The Holy Spirit, God active in the world, and the bond of love between God the Father and God the Son, will overshadow her. God will take flesh in her womb and be born as one of us. So Mary replies:
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)
Mary says ‘Yes’ to God. This is a ‘Yes’ which undoes the ‘No’ of Eve. It brings about the salvation of humanity, through the Life, Death, and Resurrection of her Son. Mary’s obedience to the will of God, ‘the obedience of faith’ (Rom 16:26), both trusts God to be at work, and makes it possible. God does not force salvation upon us, but offers it, and invites humanity into a relationship.
The Church continues to make the same invitation, and to offer the same sacrifice, so that God, who became flesh and blood in the womb of Mary, offers us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, so that we might share His Life. May we, like Mary, say yes to God, welcome him into our hearts, and show forth his love to the world, so that it may come to believe and trust in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen