Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Virgin Annunciate Antonello da Messina (1475)
Today’s Gospel forms an obvious and natural bridge between the seasons of Advent and Christmas. It tells of the moment when Mary learns she is pregnant -- the Gospel for the Feast of the Annunciation in fact, which, appropriately, takes place on March 25th, exactly nine months before Christmas. The Gospel is preceded by the Magnificat -- Mary’s wonderful hymn of gracious acceptance – normally replacing the Psalm on this Sunday. For that reason, there is only one Old Testament reading, and rather oddly, it may seem, it is taken from the 2nd Book of Samuel. What has a passage from 2nd Samuel to do with Christmas, we might wonder? Actually, despite first impressions, it is a brilliant choice. Taken together these readings capture and express a deep insight into the proper meaning of Christmas.

King David Jean David (1908-93)
David, Israel’s greatest King, wants to repay God for the wealth and power that has been given to him, and he plans to do so by building God a special dwelling place --  a temple to replace the tent that the Israelites have trailed hither and thither through the wilderness. Strangely, God rebukes him for wanting to do this. The prophet Nathan is told to say: “Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” And yet, at the same time he sends an assurance “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever”. This will happen, though, in God’s way, not David’s, and at the moment of His own choosing.
The Annunciation is that moment. The magnificent dwelling offered by a King is rejected  and the womb of a peasant girl is chosen instead. David’s presumption in trying to tell God where it would be best for Him to dwell, stands in sharp contrast to Mary’s simple acceptance of God’s word. The assurance that David's kingdom 'shall be made sure forever', it turns out, does not mean that David’s family is the first of an unending dynasty, but that his divine appointment is to be perpetuated through  a girl who gives birth to a baby in obscurity and is standing by his side when he is put to death by crucifixion. Never has this message been more effectively driven home: “Your ways are not my ways, says the LORD”.

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