4th Sunday of Advent 2023

2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16    Romans 16:25-27   Luke 1:26-38  

Advent W4Visiting the Holy Land brings the Scriptures and, especially the Gospels, alive.  Some years ago I had the privilege of visiting most of the sites in the Holy Land associated with the life of Jesus.  If there is a disappointment in visiting these sacred places it is the fact that all of them are covered by magnificent churches. 

The village of Nazareth still holds some of its original features.  For me, the village square where people gathered socially and the women shared the trough of water for washing clothes stands out as ‘an ordinary life’ site.  It was to this site that Mary came with her mother to help with the washing and it was here that something extraordinary happened.  Our tour guide suggested that Mary was prompted to run back up the hill to her home and it was there that she received a message from the God.

The traditional portrayal of Annunciation in art is full of flowers, drapes, a comfortable kneeler, winged angels etc.  Surely it was very different! In his wonderful painting portraying the Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner has Mary sitting on a very ruffled bed.  Mary looks frightened, and anxious.  The Angel is portrayed as a pillar of light.  We can almost hear her question, ‘How can this be? And her confusion, ‘But I am a virgin!’ The angel persists – “Do not be afraid”. God has a plan!

During the last week we have read of the other Annunciations – to Zachariah and Elizabeth and to Joseph.  We presume there was the same surprise, the same fear the same anxiety.  Zachariah objects; “We are too old, getting on in years.” The angel has the same counsel for them “Do not be afraid” – God has a plan. Joseph was doing what he thought to be the correct thing.  Mary, his betrothed was already with child.  Of course he would not want to cause her embarrassment.  The angel again calms him – “Do not be afraid” – God has a plan.

In the 1st reading of today’s Mass David is dissuaded from building a Temple for God.  He is told that the house of God’s presence must be of God’s making.  “The Lord will make you a house”. God has a plan! 

Annunciations and callings from God are, firstly, the Good News of God’s plan, God’s work. In all of these encounters with God, when God called, these people were alert, noticing, almost expecting that God’s plan would be revealed.  Most importantly, they were open to God’s plan. We all have our plans, our ideas and designs as to how we should go.  We wish to enhance our spiritual lives by setting up structures to bring about our own holiness.  Have we got it really wrong? Henri Nouwen, one of the great spiritual masters of our time explains: “There is a real tendency in us to think of the spiritual life as a life that will begin when we have certain feelings, think certain thoughts, or gain certain insights.  The problem, however is not how to make the spiritual life happen, but to see where it actually is happening.  God is doing something”.  

God has plan!