2Sm 7. 1-5,8b-12,14a,16; Ps 89; Rm 16. 25-27; Lk 1. 26-38
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
oday’s liturgy and its scripture selections shape our immediate preparation to celebrate our Savior’s birth. The opening prayer reminded us that our celebration of God’s birth among us also asks God to “lead us through [Jesus’ mysteries of] suffering and death to the glory of his resurrection”/1/ and our participation in it.
Through our worship God answers our pray to “lead us through [the mysteries of Jesus’] suffering and death to the glory of his resurrection.” Our worship grafts us onto the mysteries of Jesus life, death and resurrection.
I want to reflect with you briefly this morning on a contrast in the very familiar annunciation to Mary that she would be the mother of God. I do it to animate your own prayer and help you discern how God desires to favor you.
Luke’s prophecies of the births of John the Baptizer and of Jesus appealed to his hearers and readers in the 1st-Century Mediterranean world. Soaked in Greek culture they were accustomed to stories of exceptional and extraordinary people to include heavenly messengers and events. The prophecies of the births of John the Baptizer and of Jesus also resumed the history of God’s people, Israel.
The contrasts unfold in detail not only in Luke’s gospel; the liturgical celebrations throughout the year unfold them for us.
You and I are unlike our 1st-Century Mediterranean counterparts when we hear them, yet we still receive compact histories of God’s people about God working in and through them. In both prophecies of the births of John the Baptizer and of Jesus: the Lord, with different titles, is central. The contrasts revolve around the Lord God. Each contrast shouts, ‘Great was John; greater is Jesus.’
John will be great in the sight of the Lord but Jesus will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. John prepare[d] a people fit for the Lord, but Jesus will rule the people. John’s role was temporary, but Jesus’ sovereignty will [have] no end. John was a prophet, but Jesus was more than a prophet, the Son of God. John would be filled with the Holy Spirit as prophets before him, but Holy Spirit and Power of the Most High overshadow[ing] Mary made Jesus the Holy One to whom all prophets pointed./2/
Common to ancient Mediterranean prophecies of the birth of exceptional and extraordinary people were signs, which confirmed the announcements. The contrast between the two signs following Gabriel’s announcements affects us. The two signs: Zechariah, John’s father to whom Gabriel announced John’s birth, was struck mute/3/; Mary was told the fulfillment of an earlier prophecy: behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”/4/ You may quickly ask, “How does this contrast affect us?” A good question. We have experienced the answer.
Mary was the first person in the gospel to receive confidence from another person’s experience of God’s fidelity. Mutual confidence runs throughout Luke’s writings, but it isn’t confined to them. God’s fidelity to one person is our gift, it’s why we are here. How Catholics, and in particular some of us, have made known God’s fidelity inspired our Catechumens and Candidates to inquire about our Catholic worship and life and seek to become part of us.
Readers of the Sun Press and the Universe Bulletin not only learned about nearly 1000 of us uniting in our service-day, more than a few readers received confidence in their faith, and others may have begun again to notice God at work--or notice for the first time.
“Passing on the faith” is our name for sharing with others God’s fidelity to us. God’s fidelity is God’s life in us. Our relationship with God, faith, is noticing and interpreting God with us each moment. Faith isn’t merely assenting to propositions.
In your 15 minutes with Jesus this week, pause in the love of the Trinity. Then, in your own words, thank Jesus for your faith. Ask him to increase your confidence in him and to reassure you that your faith is resilient more than it is brittle. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave us his prayer so that we may grow confident in our faith by the action of forgiveness, which gives us a taste now of the mysteries of Jesus’ “suffering and death [and] the glory of his resurrection.”
1. Sacramentary, Fourth Sunday of Advent.
2. For each pair above see these verse-pairs in Luke’s gospel: 1.15, 1.32; 1.17, 1.33; 1.17, 1.33; 1.15, 1.35; 1.15, 1.35.
3. Luke 1.20.
4. Luke 1.36-37.
Wiki-image of Cavallini's angel and Wiki-image of Rosetti's Annunciation are in the public domain.