Joy, kingship, the waiting of the prophets, and the Church rejoice today.
First Reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16
Psalm: Psalm 88(89):2-5, 27, 29
Second Reading: Romans 16:25-27
Gospel: Luke 1:26-38
This is one of the few years where this last Sunday of Advent falls on Christmas Eve. There’s a good chance you might hear the Christmas readings and celebrate the Lord’s birth before you go to bed tonight! If we can keep as much of this Christmas Eve as this last Sunday of Advent, though, it can serve to prepare us to receive the gift of Christmas more fully.
The Gospel can be your companion in the frantic buildup you may be facing today, getting food prepared and presents wrapped. It takes us into the very ordinary home of a young girl – Mary. We can picture her going about the normal day-to-day tasks of anyone maintaining their home. A priest I know refers to her as ‘Our Lady of the Pots and Pans’!
In that domestic life, though, something extraordinary happened. The angel Gabriel went into that house, breaking into Mary’s ordinary life, and his first word to her was one that accompanied us on this Advent journey, having taken us right up to this climactic moment: “Rejoice!”
In this Annunciation, which we are so familiar with from the Rosary, Gabriel gives the news that the entire Old Testament Scriptures had been preparing for: the coming, the advent of the Messiah had at last come. Gabriel gives his name: Jesus. Gabriel also tells us about him: he will be the Son of the Most High and sit on and rule from the throne of David forever.
In the passage from 2 Samuel, we heard the covenant that the Lord made with David: “Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me, and your throne be established forever.” As Gabriel spoke to Mary, the truth of this covenant was finally revealed; this wasn’t to be an earthly throne where a line of succession would keep ticking along forever. No, rather, a single descendant of David – Jesus – would sit on the throne in secure Kingship and reign for all eternity. Notice how many themes of Advent have come to their culmination today! Joy, Kingship, the expectant waiting of the prophets, and now of the Church.
But let’s return, for a moment, to the scene of Gabriel meeting with Mary. We’re given no indication that Mary thought anything at all was different about that particular day. In fact, St Luke prefaces the meeting with a description of who Mary was: a young woman betrothed to Joseph of the House of David. As I read this, I hear Jesus’ words in Luke 17: that men and women were marrying one another right up until Noah entered the ark and the flood came. The context is different, to be sure, but there’s the same sense of ordinary life continuing until the moment that God’s action pierces the ordinariness unexpectedly. It takes us back to the first Sunday of Advent when Jesus emphasised that we know he is coming, but we don’t know the day or the hour. And when the hour finally does come, we need to be alert and receptive, just as Mary was.
As Advent draws to a close and gives way to the celebration of Christmas, what gift has the season given to you? Has it woken you from the slumber of modern life? Has it awakened and kindled joy in your heart for what the child who came into the world, born of Mary, has achieved for you? Has it given you a fuller picture of who exactly he is?
But what of Isaiah, our constant companion throughout this season, who has been replaced in the liturgy of the word today by the book of Samuel? He gets one last mention. The liturgy gives him the last word of this beautiful season in the communion antiphon: “Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son; and his name will be called the Emmanuel.” God with us. Behold, he is coming.