4th Sunday of Advent 2 Samuel 7:1–5, 8–11, 16; Romans 16:25–27; Luke 1:26–38
God’s Power Will Overshadow You God’s new presence among us—in the person of Jesus—makes all things possible.
Ayear before Columbus discovered America, Saint Ignatius of Loyola was born in Spain. The parents of Ignatius died before he was 16. The years of Ignatius’ young adulthood, therefore, were undisciplined and wayward.
Eventually Ignatius turned from his life of sin. He underwent a profound conversion. Ignatius kept a journal of his experiences. Later he published it as a kind of road map for others to study in their own search for Jesus. The journal is called The Spiritual Exercises.
One of the “spiritual exercises” in the journal is a guide for meditating on today’s gospel. It has three steps.
The first step is to imagine what the world was like before Jesu was born. For example, people were drifting from God. Evil was spreading like a giant cancer. The world was in a hopeless situation.
The second step is to imagine the angel Gabriel descending from heaven to announce to Mary that she is to be the mother of Jesus.
We imagine ourselves descending from heaven with the angel. We see the planet Earth far, far away. It is just a tiny speak of light in a star-filled universe.
As we draw closer, we see the spot on Earth called the Holy Land. As we draw even closer, we see the town of Nazareth. Next, we see Mary’s house in Nazareth. Finally, we see Mary inside the house. She is kneeling in silent prayer.
The third step is to listen to the conversation between the angel and Mary. We pay attention to two sentences, especially.
The first sentence is the angel’s words to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and God’s power will rest on you. For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35
The important word in that sentence is overshadow. This word is rarely used in the Bible. One place we do find it, however, is in the Book of Exodus.
There it describes a mysterious cloud that “overshadowed” or “covered” the tent in which Israel kept the ark of the covenant. Exodus 40:34 says that as soon as the cloud overshadowed the tent, “the LORD’s presence filled it.” Luke’s choice of the rare word overshadow is not accidental; it is deeply symbolic.
Luke compares Mary’s body to the tent in which the ark was kept. He compares Mary’s womb, in which Jesus will be housed, to the ark in which the tablets of the Ten Commandments were housed. Thus when God’s power overshadows Mary, the LORD’s presence” fills her. but the “LORD’s presence” that fills Mary is infinitely richer than the “LORD’s presence” that fills the tent. The “LORD’s presence” in Mary is the flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus.
Here we should recall that God can be present to us in different ways, just as people can be present to each other in different ways.
For example, a son away at college can be present to his mother by a photograph on her desk or, more personally, by a letter in her hand. When the son comes home, he becomes present to his mother in the most personal way possible, by his own flesh and blood.
In a similar way, God is present to us in different ways.
First, God is present to us in creation. God put something of himself in creation, just as a songwriter puts something of himself in the melody of his song.
Second, God is present to us in the words of Scripture. God’s thoughts are present to us in Scripture, just as a songwriter’s thoughts are present to us in the words of his song.
Finally, God is present to us in Jesus. God became present to us in flesh and blood, just as a songwriter can be present to us in his flesh and blood.
This brings us back to the first sentence that we should give special attention to in today’s gospel. It is the angel’s words to mary that God’s power would overshadow her. When God’s power overshadowed Mary, God became present to us in the most personal way imaginable. He became present to us in the flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus.
This brings us to the second sentence that we should focus on in today’s gospel.
The sentence follows immediately after the angel’s reference to God’s power overshadowing Mary. In the very next sentence the angel says, “Remember your relative Elizabeth. It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she is very old. For there is nothing that God cannot do.” Luke 1:36–37
The important words in this sentence are the words nothing is impossible with God. How beautifully today’s gospel illustrates that “nothing is impossible with God.”
Before God’s power overshadowed Mary, the world had no hope. Sin and violence were everywhere.
Before God’s power overshadowed Mary, she had no hope of bearing a child. She was a virgin.
Before God’s power overshadowed Elizabeth, she had no hope of giving birth to a son. She was old and sterile.
And, finally, before God’s power overshadowed Elizabeth, she had no hope of giving birth to a son. She was old and sterile.
And, finally, before God’s power overshadowed Mary, the human race had no hope of salvation. It was held in slavery by Satan.
The power of God that overshadowed Mary changed all that.
What does this mean for us today, personally? It means this:
Our world may be messed up. Our family may be messed up. Our own lives may be messed up. But there is hope, because God’s power, in the person of Jesus, has entered our world.
This is what we prepare to celebrate in these final hours before Christmas. This is what gives us joy beyond imagining, hope beyond dreaming.
Let’s close with a prayer. Let’s pray the words Mary prayed later on when she visited her kinswoman Elizabeth. Please pray along with me in silence:
“My heart praises the Lord; my soul is glad because of God my Savior. . . . He has kept the promise he made to our ancestors. . . . . He has remembered to show mercy to Abraham and to all his descendants forever!” Luke 1:46–47, 54–55
Series II 4th Sunday of Advent 2 Samuel 7:1–5, 8–11, 16; Romans 16:25–27; Luke 1:26–38 Anne’s Van As Jesus brought God to us, we must bring God to others.
In March 1987 journalist Maura Rossi did a story on Anne Donahue. Anne’s a Georgetown University graduate who has volunteered to work at Covenant House in New York City.
The purpose of this house is to provide shelter for homeless runaways who have been forced to turn to prostitution for a living.
Every night at ten o’clock Anne and another volunteer put gallons of hot chocolate and bags of sandwiches into the Covenant House van.
For the next couple of hours, the van, with a dove painted on its door, tours the city’s juvenile prostitution areas.
The volunteers simply offer free sandwiches and hot chocolate to runaways working the streets there.
You ask yourself, What does Covenant House hope to accomplish by these nightly excursions?
Anne answers the question this way: “We’re out there because we know that a lot of kids haven’t tried Covenant House yet. About two-thirds have never heard of us.’’
Anne goes on to say that they accomplish something else, too. They show these kids that somebody cares, that somebody is out there who’s neither buying nor selling them. Referring to her first year as a volunteer, Anne says:
“I was very depressed. What kind of God would let kids suffer so much? . . . Finally it got through to me. . . . God’s not going to come down and show us his love. We have to let God’s love work through us.”
I like Anne’s story. I especially like Anne’s final two comments.
First, she says, “God’s not going to come down and show us his love.’’
She’s absolutely right. God’s already done this in the person of Jesus. That’s what Advent is all about. It’s preparing to celebrate this great mystery.
Second, she says, “We have to let God’s love work through us.’’
Again, she’s absolutely right. When Jesus ascended to his Father after his life on earth, he commissioned us to continue his work.
Just as the Father worked through Jesus during his life on earth, so Jesus taught us to let his Father work through us in our life on earth. We’re to be channels of God’s grace to others, just as Jesus was.
That’s what Anne is doing as she drives her van, with the dove on its door, through the seedy areas of New York City. She’s serving as a channel of God’s grace to a lot of needy young people.
She’s doing what Mary did in today’s gospel. She’s saying yes to God’s invitation to be a vehicle of his love in today’s world.
What Anne is doing, and what Mary did, we must also do.
We sometimes forget that if Jesus is to be born again in our world, it must be through us.
We sometimes forget that at some point in our life on earth God invites us to say what Mary said: “I am the Lord’s servant . . . may it happen to me as you have said.”
Christmas is traditionally a children’s feast. It’s a time when we introduce children to the great mystery that Jesus brought God down to us.
But we cannot stop here. If we do, we’ve told our children only half of the Christmas story.
We must go a step further. We must teach them why Jesus brought God to us. It was to teach us that we, too, must bring God to others.
Some time ago the Washington Post did a story on Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire. Ross was not always a wealthy business tycoon. During the depression years his father and mother in Texarkana, Texas, had to struggle to make ends meet, as most depression families had to do.
Ross recalled that during those difficult years a lot of hobos rode the trains of Texarkana. And a lot of those hobos came to their home for meals.
Ross’s mother never turned them away, although she wondered why so many came to their home.
Then one day she learned the reason. One of the hobos told her that the curb in front of their house was marked in a code known only to hobos. It indicated that the people in that house always fed you.
Ross asked his mother, “Should I erase the mark?’’ “No,’’ his mother said, “leave it there.’’ Commenting on his mother’s answer, Ross told journalist David Remnick:
“We are all what we were taught to be. You sit in that little house in Texarkana and you see your parents doing things like that when you’re a child. That’s the greatest lesson in the world.”
Ross is right. It is the greatest lesson in the world. And the reason that it’s the greatest lesson is because it’s the lesson Jesus taught us through his coming into the world. It’s the lesson that we must bring God to others, just as Jesus brought God to us.
It’s the lesson that we must bring God to others, just as Mary brought God to us by her words to the angel in today’s gospel.
It’s the lesson that we must learn and relearn each Advent and pass on to our children.
It’s the lesson that other people will be giving to us this Christmas so that we, in turn, may learn to give it to others.
That’s what Anne Donahue does each night in New York City.
That’s what Ross Perot’s mother did in Texarkana.
That’s what Jesus did in his world.
That’s what we must do in our world.
Unless we learn this lesson and pass it on to our children, we’ve missed the whole point of the feast we are preparing to celebrate.
Series III 4th Sunday of Advent 2 Samuel 7:1–5, 8b–12, 14a, 16; Romans 16:25–27; Luke 1:26–38
Jesus in our midst In history, mystery, and majesty—and in word, worship, and witness.
There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me.” John 1:26 (NAB)
For years, a small marble statue stood in the entrance hall of the French Embassy building in New York City.
The statue’s arms and face were badly damaged, but it had a quaint charm that made it a good conversation piece. So the embassy kept it in a prominent place in the entrance hall.
One day the statue attracted the attention of art expert Dr. Brandt, a professor at New York University.
As she studied it, her heart began to beat faster, because it matched the description of a long-lost statue by Michelangelo.
Further study—and consultation with other art experts—confirmed her wildest dream.
It was a statue of Cupid, sculpted by Michelangelo in his early years. Amazingly, it had stood there, all these years, without being recognized.
Ilike that story, because it serves as a kind of parable of something John the Baptist said while baptizing people in the Jordan River. He told the people:
“There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me.” John 1:26 (NAB)
In other words, just as the statue of Cupid stood in the embassy for years without being recognized, so Jesus lived—and continues to live among us—without being recognized.
And that brings us to the season of Advent which is drawing to a close.
We have heard many times that Advent is a preparation for the celebration of two comings of Jesus: his first coming in history 2,000 years ago and his last coming in majesty at the end of the world.
Saint Bernard observed, however, that, in its widest sense, Advent is really a preparation for not two but three comings of Jesus.
He went on to explain. Jesus’ first coming in history and his last coming in majesty are visible comings.
Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds saw the first coming. And every person who ever lived will see the last coming.
Saint Bernard went on to say that Jesus also comes in an invisible way in mystery, that is, in a way that is visible only through eyes of faith. This coming of Jesus in mystery is a kind of spiritual bridge spanning the gap between Jesus’ first coming and his last.
The invisible comings of Jesus in mystery takes place in three ways: word—listening to Scripture; worship—gathering as church; witness—living out Jesus’ teaching.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these three ways: word, worship, and witness.
Concerning Jesus’ coming when we listen to his word,
Jesus said to his followers, “Whoever listens to you listens to me.” Luke 10:16
Concerning his coming when we worship together, Jesus said: “[W]here two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” Matthew 18:20
Finally, concerning his coming when we witness to his teaching, Jesus said: “Those who . . . obey my teaching . . . my Father and I will come to them and live with them.” John 14:23 In summary, then, Jesus comes into our lives in mystery during three graced times—when we:
listen to Scripture (word), gather as church (worship), live out his teaching (witness).
That raises an important question. How do we prepare to meet Jesus in each of these graced moments?
Take the first graced moment: Jesus’ coming in Scripture.
We should prepare for it by listening attentively with an open mind, lovingly with an open heart, and trustingly with an open soul.
That brings us to the second graced moment: Jesus’ coming among us when we gather as church.
We prepare for this moment, especially, by consciously uniting ourselves in love and faith as a worshiping community that offers itself in and with Jesus to the Father.
For example, as we walk up to receive Communion, we make a conscious effort to realize who it is that we receive.
We are to receive the same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem.
We are to receive the same Jesus who healed the sick and forgave sinners.
We are to receive the same Jesus who died on the cross for us.
We begin our preparation right after receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. We commit ourselves to living out in daily life what we have just celebrated: our oneness through and in Christ with one another and with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Above all, we pledge to love and serve our brothers and sisters, especially those who have special needs.
In conclusion, then, in its widest sense, Advent celebrates Christ’s coming among us in history, mystery, and majesty.
And of these three comings, the most immediate is Christ’s coming in mystery. It is also especially important. Why?
Because it is a graced moment, we resolve to try to live out what Jesus taught us in his first coming. And in so doing, we prepare for Christ’s final coming in majesty.
Furthermore, unless we learn to recognize Jesus’ presence among us in mystery—that is, in word, worship, and witness—we may not recognize him when he comes in majesty at the end of time.
Let us close with a prayer asking Mary to help us prepare for Jesus’ three comings in our life, as she prepared for them in her life:
Hail Holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To you we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to you we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Be merciful to us, loving advocate, Virgin Mary, and after our exile, show us your son, Jesus. Adapted