by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the men’s branch of the Idente Missionaries
New York/Paris, December 20, 2020.| Fourth Sunday of Advent
2 Samuel 7: 1-5.8b-12.14a.16; Letter to the Romans 16: 25-27; Saint Luke 1: 26-38.
The Gospel text and today’s First Reading tell stories separated by a thousand years: the end of David’s reign and the Annunciation of the Lord. The surprising message sent by Yahweh to David, through the prophet Nathan, is full of meaning, despite its rather surprising appearance.
Why would it not please God that King David built him a temple? And why does He say that He would give him a kingdom that would last forever, if in the year 587 BC the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and ended forever the reign of David’s lineage?
The first question is answered in the Book of Chronicles, where one perceives that David could no longer contain the struggles for power in his own family, the sufferings of his people and the threat of enemy tribes: This word of the Lord came to me: “You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight” (1 Chr 22: 8).
The second question is even more important, and reveals to us that God’s plans are undefeatable and much deeper than human projects. David and his people dreamed of a kingdom that no one could destroy, but we well know that every empire produces exploitation, corruption and slavery in the political, economic, moral and social spheres, to finally fall and leave power to another. Yahweh was revealing what today’s Gospel announces: the coming of a King in the person of a poor and defenseless child, who will shed no other blood than his own and who will give us the most difficult freedom to achieve, even in the midst of suffering caused by natural laws and by our ambitions.
This is how they are and how the divine plans are carried out. Mary was a socially insignificant young woman, born in an insignificant village lost in the mountains of Galilee. Joseph was a simple carpenter, but belonging to the house of David.
The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst (Lk 17: 20-21).
In this manner, in an unexpected way, Nathan’s prophecy, pronounced a thousand years before and remembered by all the prophets, was literally fulfilled. But there is more The way to realize the divine plans is not what we might expect. The kingdom of heaven could be compared to a bamboo… although this was not a parable of Christ:
It takes five years for the Chinese Bamboo Tree to emerge from the ground. But when it sprouts, it grows rapidly in five weeks to a height of over 90 feet. Had the tree not developed a strong unseen foundation it could not have sustained its life as it grew. This support system enables it to survive in the harshest conditions for many, many years, thanks to durability, strength and flexibility it developed ahead of time. The roots develop silently and invisibly and if someone grows that tree they may wonder during the five years of waiting if their care will be useless or if something has failed.
As St. Paul tells us today, in that way God slowly and gradually reveals his plans of salvation (that is what the word “mystery” means) and the final moment of that revelation is the moment when Jesus exclaims on the Cross: It is finished (Jn 19:30), by which he means: This is the most glorious moment of my life, one in which the Father showed how far his love for man goes.
All of the above is not only important for the history of the people of Israel and for the Church, but personally for each one of us.
Many times we think that our efforts are a failure, both to change and to do good to others. But the Holy Spirit also makes an effort, much more persevering than ours, similar to the growth of bamboo, which manifests itself in many ways within us.
With delicacy, without anyone else knowing, sometimes without us realizing it, it makes more sensitive two points of the vanguard of our soul: attention and desire. Only when our whole attention and desire are fixed on something else -whether it is a work of art, an event, a few words or someone else’s life, – does the ecstasy arise. That is the door where the Spirit calls and, if we let him in, he continues working in our soul. No doubt something like this must have happened to the young Mary in Nazareth. God draws us to Himself, our soul responds to Him and in return, He fills our soul with joy.
In the words of our Father Founder, he inclines us to the things of God, to his will and to his plans, which produces in our soul unexpected changes that make us understand today’s Gospel: nothing will be impossible for God.
Many of us read today’s Gospel text as if everything happened within a few minutes for the Annunciation to take place. But in fact, the Gospel presents Mary in a contemplative and discerning disposition. Mary was certainly open to prayer and contemplation. In that state, the Spirit increased his natural sensitivity and innocent desire to serve God and her neighbor. The invitation to be the Mother of God was not only an encounter with the angel; she was always discerning what the Lord was saying to her. And so, little by little, as the bamboo grows, the kingdom of heaven became present in her.
In today’s commemoration of the Annunciation, we of course celebrate the obedience and faith of Mary of Nazareth, but the Gospel text seeks to focus on the work that God did in her. This is also essential in each of us and is one of the key messages of Advent. For example, we have mentioned attention and desire above. It is impossible for us to have perfect mastery of either. Distractions and small or big wishes plague us. We need the help of the Holy Spirit and this is the first thing we experience in our spiritual life.
The initial way the Holy Spirit changes us is by transfiguring our natural virtues, our intelligence and our will. But at the same time, it also changes our way of loving. In this, the Annunciation is a model example, because Mary’s love for God and for her future husband Joseph, are elevated to the highest degree. making her able to love all persons around her and also all those who were going to approach her Son in the centuries to come. That is why, in her Magnificat, Mary exclaims: From now on all generations will call me blessed;for He who is mighty has done great things for me.
We can illustrate this with a personal story told by the writer Christopher De Vinck.
I had a brother named Oliver who was severely handicapped, blind, and bedridden. No one was sure whether Oliver was aware of the world around him, although he did eat when he was fed. Though he lived to be over 30, feeding him was like feeding an eight-month-old child. He required 24-hour care, which his mother gave him until the day he died.
Chris remembers… When I was in my early 20s, I met a girl, and I fell in love. After a few months I brought her home for dinner to meet my family. After the introductions and some small talk, my mother went to the kitchen to check the meal, and I asked the girl, “Would you like to see Oliver?” for I had, of course, told her about my brother. “No,” she answered. She did not want to see him. It was as if she slapped me in the face. In response I mumbled something polite and walked to the dining room.
Soon after, I met Rose, a dark-haired, lovely girl. She asked me the names of my brothers and sisters. I brought her home after a few months to meet my family. The introductions. The small talk. We ate dinner; then it was time for me to feed Oliver. I walked into the kitchen and prepared Oliver’s meal. Then, I remember, I sheepishly asked Rose if she’d like to come upstairs and see Oliver. “Sure,” she said, and up the stairs we went. I sat on Oliver’s bed as Rose stood and watched over my shoulder. I gave him his first spoonful, then his second. “Can I do that?” she asked with ease, with freedom, with compassion. So I gave her the bowl, and she fed Oliver one spoonful at a time. Today Rose and I have three children.
God transforms the basic love we have for the people who love us into a truly universal love.
The Mystery of Salvation has been revealed to us and teaches us that God does not want to help the poor, the little ones, people of good will, without us. Today is an appropriate day to take the example of Mary, in whom grace grew silently, like bamboo, until it bore visible and joyful fruit for all. Mary is obedient.Her obedience is risk-taking when she says: Let it be done according to your word. Her obedience is loving. She loves God and hence trusts in Him and obeys. She kept on saying, ‘yes’ to God until the end of her earthly life to be the Mother of God. may we strive to imitate Mary’s radical “yes” by clearing a place for Christ to pitch His tent in our hearts, and so help bring Him to the world.
When it seems to us that nothing works, that nothing makes sense and we begin to question the reality of our vocation, let us remember the preference of God for the last ones, for those who count for nothing, for all that is despised by people. Making fruitful the womb of Mary, he showed that there is no condition of death that the Lord does not know how to recover life. Even the hearts dry as the desert sands he will transform into lush gardens, irrigated by the water of his Spirit, the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest (Is 32:15).
Therefore, let us not forget that our little good deeds will help others see the light that will bring them before God, right now or at the end of their days.
The annunciation to Mary and incarnation of the Word constitute the deepest mystery of the relationship between God and men and the most important event in the history of mankind: God becomes man, and will remain so forever, such is the extent of His goodness and mercy and love for all of us. And yet on the day when the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity assumed frail human nature in the pure womb of the Blessed Virgin, it all happened quietly, without fanfare of any kind…in the same discreet, persevering and safe way as bamboo grows.