Dec 22, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Advent

To help us understand the connections between our first reading and our Gospel, we will need to know a little about the Ark of the Covenant. During the Exodus from Egypt, Moses received the 10 Commandments and other laws at Mount Sinai. Among these other laws were the directions for the construction of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was the special presence of God among his people Israel. From the Letter to the Hebrews, we find out that inside the Ark were several items: the tablets containing the ten commandments (the decalogue or ten words), a golden container of manna from the desert, and rod of Aaron, the high priest, which had budded. The Ark was carried before the army of Israel when Jericho fell and many other times into battle. It was later placed into the inner sanctuary of the Temple which Solomon, the son of David built, called the Holy of Holies, which the high priest entered only once a year.

David’s impulse is a good one. “Here I am living in luxury. And the Ark is kept in ordinary surroundings.” He goes to the prophet Nathan to get a blessing for his plan to build a house for God. God’s reply isn’t no, at first, but rather a question: “Should you build me a house to dwell in?” Remember, where you came from and all the things I have done for you. You’re going to build me a house? I will build you a house.

We should not rest on what we think we can do for God. The works of the Lord are great and, yes, he even does his works through us. The impulse to do something for the Lord is a good one, when it arises from sincere love and does not forget that what we do is a return, a giving back, a response for what the Lord has done for us. It is not we who do favors for the Lord, but the Lord who does favors for us. It is not we who will build a better world for God, but God who, coming into the world, saves the world and makes it new. We receive from him. We see this most clearly in our Gospel today. Mary is the model of how we Christians are meant to stand before God and receive from him. “May it be done to me according to your word.” It is the Lord who does these great things. We can dispose ourselves by faith and obedience – but do not forget that this is his grace working in us, too. There is nothing that we can do apart from him.

The Israelites built an Ark according to God’s instructions. David planned to build a Temple and his son completed it. But God built Mary. From the first moment of her existence, he kept her free from any stain of sin. The Lord builds perfectly. The precision of God’s instructions to the Israelites for the building of the Ark demonstrate the importance and holiness of his dwelling place. Likewise, the Temple is built as a sign of God’s magnificence. Everything about the arrangements speaks of the glory and holiness of God and how that is to be reflected in what is dedicated for his service and worship. In Mary’s womb we have not just the ten words, but the Eternal Word; not just a symbol of the Eucharist like manna but the Bread of Life himself; not just the high priest’s staff, but the Eternal High Priest the shoot which blossoms from the stump of Jesse. Indeed, all of God’s works are perfect. But our works are flawed, they are riddled with our incompetency and sinfulness. Eventually, through sin, the Israelites will lose the privilege of maintaining the place of the Ark, and it becomes lost to them. Also because of their sins, the Temple will be destroyed, rebuilt and again destroyed.

On the contrary, the works of the Lord are perfect in every way. They are often difficult for us to understand and we do not know the reasons for all the preparations. In the end, we discover the grandeur of God’s plans, how much better his designs are than ours. In Jesus, we have not only a place where the power and presence of God are shown to us. Jesus is God himself: True God and True Man. And although he allows his body to be ravaged by our sins, he is raised again in glory. He is never lost to us, never to be destroyed. Only our refusal to allow God to work in us keeps us from him.

We are just a few days from the solemnity of Christmas. Have we prepared to receive him during this Advent? Perhaps we have not done such a great job of joyful preparation for this feast. Perhaps we have not allowed God to work in us by his grace so that he can move us towards his perfection. All is not lost. We have these next few days to open ourselves to God’s work in us. He desires to adorn us with his graces and make his dwelling in our hearts. We become as it were, miniature arks of his covenant. Open your hearts to him. Pray a little extra. Ask for forgiveness from anyone you have harmed. Give forgiveness to anyone who has harmed you, ask God for help in letting it go. Be a bit more generous with the poor, make a gift to St. Vincent de Paul’s. Join Bishop Olmstead outside Planned Parenthood on Christmas Eve praying for the unborn, the mothers and all involved. Let God’s grace direct you these next few days. Be a little more aware of God’s presence in your life and let him prepare you, in whatever way, according to his will, to receive his Son with joy this coming Christmas.

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