“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths,” is a message we have heard several times this Advent. The words of Isaiah are applied to John the Baptist as he calls us to make ready the way of the Lord.
As we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent we are reminded that Christmas is just a few days away. As we continue to prepare we remember that our Heavenly Father, in his plan for our salvation, prepared the way for the advent of his Son for a long time.
When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary announcing that she will conceive and bear a son he tells her that the child will inherit the “throne of David his father.”
The first reading speaks of the preparations for this all the way back to the time of King David, 1,000 years earlier. In that reading David is reminded of God’s goodness to him – taking him from “the care of the flock to be a commander of Israel.” He then goes on to promise Israel, through David, a time of stability and peace saying: “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.”
Then he tells David that he will establish a permanency to his throne, a promise that his house – his family – will endure. David’s heirs did sit on his throne until the Babylonian exile almost 500 years later, but these years were not years of peace. In fact, there were numerous battles and wars in those years. Egypt, Assyria and Babylon would all inflict their wrath on Judah. Internal strife would also see the Davidic kingdom divided in two after the death of his son, and heir, Solomon.
Yet God makes the promise to David. The question becomes, when is it fulfilled? The promise is fulfilled in the advent of the Christ, Jesus.
The announcement to Mary by Gabriel ushers in the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. Jesus, the Son of God, will be grafted onto the line of David through adoption by Joseph who is of the house of David. Joseph will be the foster father of Jesus. Jesus as an adopted son will be the heir to his father’s patrimony; he will be a Son of David. The Kingdom of David, however, is being transformed into the Kingdom of God and this kingdom will have no end. The long-prepared advent of the Messiah is now at hand.
The Letter to the Romans speaks God’s mysterious plan for mankind being made manifest in Christ Jesus. The author speaks of the “mystery kept secret for long ages” that has been revealed through Jesus. All nations are now invited to participate and to know God’s loving kindness and mercy. He says that the goal of this plan is “to bring about the obedience of faith to the only wise God.”
The “obedience of faith” is a response to God’s invitation to know him, to love him and to follow him. The first humans represented by Adam and Eve in Genesis broke the relationship with God through disobedience; Jesus will restore this relationship through obedience to the Father’s will and in doing so will be raised on high as King. The obedience of Jesus however is mirrored in the “fiat” of his mother, Mary.
After Gabriel greets Mary she is filled with wonder – “what could this greeting mean?” Gabriel proceeds to announce her role in God’s plan for salvation: she is to conceive a son in her womb who she will name Jesus. Knowing that she is a virgin, she asks the angel how this will happen, to which he replies that the child will be conceived through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. With that Gabriel fulfills his mission as a messenger.
It is important to remember that the announcement of Gabriel begs a response. Mary has to accept freely this mission and her role in order for it to be fulfilled. Gabriel waits and Mary responds: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Mary accepts the mission, she responds to the will of God in obedience and ushers in the day of salvation.
God always keeps his promise. In other words, God is faithful to his covenant; his love never fails. The fulfillment happens in time according to his design but that requires a response, a response of loving obedience.
As we continue our spiritual preparations for Christmas, we have the opportunity to renew our faith in God’s divine plan, his will for us and our willingness to respond in obedience and trust.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.