PROMISE, FULFILLMENT, AND ME!


Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflections
Fourth Sunday of Advent - Year B
December 21, 2008



Prophecy and fulfillment stand out in the liturgy of today. God promised and what he promised, He fulfilled… in due time.

The promise, however, came on the heels of a flat refusal on the part of God, no doubt for a worthy, though worldly plan hatched by no less than God’s very own anointed, King David. Comfort and relative peace then enjoyed by David, led him to personally take up what he believed was God ‘s cause, and offer to build a house worthy of the Lord, or at the very least, something better than his own palace. With passion in his heart, David expressed his sadness: “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!” But despite Nathan’s nod of assent, David’s plan was not meant to be.

Man proposes, but God disposes! In a series of statements dotted with the first person singular pronoun, “I”, God takes full initiative and control, turns the tables, as it were, on David, and declares His will to “establish” a house for him instead. God even makes a promise, not only to David, but also to the kingdom he represented, a kingdom that shall “endure forever,” and a “throne [that] shall stand firm for ever.”

What great and noble deed which David wanted to accomplish, God did – and a whole lot more besides! God’s limitless freedom and sovereignty shone more clearly than man’s plan, no matter how good, no matter how worthy, no matter how brilliant. Today’s first reading, among others, tells us this sublime and important truth: God, it is, and not people, not us, who does the choosing; who takes the initiative. He, it was, who built David and his scions a house, from where the promised Messiah was to spring forth, as indeed the Gospel events, one thousand years later, would show. Fulfillment is among the unmistakable themes that today’s gospel passage would have us notice. “The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David….”

With God in firm control, with God Himself doing what He knows best, with Him as the author of both a promise and its fulfillment whose benefits extend beyond David and his erstwhile, earthly reign – with Him as Father, and all of us in and through Christ, as His sons and daughters, what better response is there than the profuse song of praise that the responsorial psalm of today represents? “Forever I will sing of the goodness of the Lord?” Why not? “The promises of the Lord I will sing forever; through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness…”

St. Paul, who understood this sublime truth more than any other, offers his own version of thanks by glorifying God who manifested this “mystery kept secret for long ages [ …] made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith, to the only wise God through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

The Gospel passage, for its part, records for posterity the fulfillment of the promise that took place through the instrumentality of key personages: Joseph, of the house of David, and Mary, who, in the same spirit of St. Paul’s obedience of faith, said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke, ever the careful writer with an eye for important details, took pains to include those words that point to the fulfillment of the promise of old: “The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Promise…Fulfillment…God in control…God taking full initiative on the course of human history, our story, our personal stories… God is fully in charge. God knows best. He intervened, and continues to work quietly in and through the course of history.

But wait! This unfolding drama of glorious and majestic proportions has some key players other than God alone! David, for one…He wanted to be the protagonist and do God some real good; something that after all, God deserved – a dwelling place for the ark of the covenant. There was Joseph…and there, too, was Mary! They were part of the long story: from promise to fulfillment! Their role was to live that “obedience of faith” that St. Paul speaks about in the second reading. The promise of old would not have come to fulfillment had it not been for these key personages who showed us the way by which God, “the only wise God,” could “bring about the obedience of faith.” Promise became fulfillment because David, Joseph and Mary cooperated wholeheartedly with God’s plan. God’s will came to be because there were individuals who were obedient enough and cooperative enough to do as God bade them, each in their own special way.

Today, just a few days shy of Christmas, the liturgy reminds us of the importance and depth of meaning of the complex interplay between divine will and human cooperation – the unfolding drama of the God-human interchange that has far-reaching consequences for ourselves and others.

Promise…This is God’s initiative, God’s prevenient grace, if you will… This is God’s and God’s alone to do. Our plans, our proposals, no matter how well-thought out, no matter how cogent and convincing from our point of view – they all pale in comparison to what He wills…He, not us…He, “the only wise God,” as St. Paul describes Him.

Obedience of faith… This is our response… the only valid response, as David, Joseph and Mary showed us. This obedience is what should be behind our cooperation, our joining ranks and being with Him who willed long ago to be “father to us.” This is our role as free and intelligent beings. This is what we are expected to pitch in, our own mean little share, our contribution, our participation.

Fulfillment…This is once more God’s role. What begins in God, ends in God. He is “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 21:6). His is the promise. His is the fulfillment. And in between the two, there lies our human effort, our share by way of our cooperation. This is what we, as members of the Church militant, caught in this in-between time of promise and fulfillment, ought to be doing. This is what David, Joseph and Mary did. This is what the thousands of saints in the roster of the Church did. This is what being about “our father’s business” really means. This is what Christmas, at bottom, ought to mean for us…Incarnation…God taking on flesh, God becoming man like us, God doing what only humans like us ought to be doing…”Christ became like us, in everything except sin.” He was up and about, doing his Father’s business. Both promise and fulfillment himself personified, he also worked so that fulfillment takes place for you and I… soon! Yes, soon, for true to the spirit of Advent, we all pray with fervent hope, “Come, Lord, do not delay!”

P.S. I have added a little footnote to this somewhat lengthy and rather serious reflection…for those who love poetry. I have always wanted to share what I enjoy most, in the hope that, like me, you can also find the power and the beauty of what others have worked for and took pains to share with us. This time, a short poem taken from the French breviary, the hymn from Sunday evening, Week 1:


Reste avec nous, Seigneur Jesus,
Toi, le convive d’Emmaus :
Au long des veilles de la nuit,
Ressuscite, tu nous conduis

Prenant le pain, tu l’as rompu,
Alors nos yeux t’ont reconnu
Flambee furtive ou notre cœur
A pressenti le vrai bonheur.

Les temps est court, nos jours s’en vont.
Mais tu prepares ta maison;
Tu donnes us sens a nos desirs,
A nos labeurs, un avenir.

Toi, le premier des pelerins,
L’etoile du dernier matin,
Reveille en nous, par ton amour,
L’immense espoir de ton retour.

Stay with us, Lord Jesus,
Welcome guest at Emmaus:
All through the watch of night,
Risen, now you lead us.

Taking the bread, you broke it
‘Tis then our eyes recognized you
Hidden blaze, where our heart
Has felt true happiness

Time is short, our days go by
But you prepare your house;
You give meaning to our longing,
And to our present toil, a future.

First among all pilgrims
The star of this morning last,
Awaken in us, by your love,
Endless hope of your return.

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