Fourth Sunday of Advent (B)
December 18, 2011
David sure had brilliant ideas! He simply was convinced he had to do it, and no one else, he thought, was worthy enough to do what he planned to do – build God a house, and move the Ark of the Covenant from a tent to some place more worthy of it. Or so, he thought!
Hubris … pride and sinful vanity, no less! Far from what he was many years before, a nameless, faceless, powerless lad who did nothing more than shepherd his lowly flock of sheep, his position of power and prestige got the better of him, and thought he should do something that was really ultimately, God’s to do.
Something good, something noble, something laudable, no doubt ... nothing sinful, nothing remiss, nothing amiss … but something that can make one of holier, more humble stock feel ill at ease …
But God, in His wisdom, had other plans. No … it was not for David to build God a house, but it was God’s prerogative to make use of David’s very own plans to build His own house, founded on the very same David who thought he had the most brilliant plan for God’s glory!
This is the story of God who saves. This is the saga of a God who loves humanity, and who calls the shots ultimately when it comes to doing His will for the sake of the same human family.
I have made so many plans both for myself and for others all my life. At my age, I can count on more years past, than years future. I have led so many planning and envisioning sessions. I have conjured up dreams bigger than myself. A great many of them saw the light of day, as an equally big number of them were dashed to the ground, ignored, rejected, or supplanted by other people’s dreams and plans.
All of them, just like David’s dream for the Ark of the Covenant, were good, noble and laudable … nothing sinful, nothing remiss, nothing amiss. But let us face it … some of it was mixed with other motives, perhaps hidden to David’s – and my own – awareness!
We all were young once upon a time (although some of my readers are still part of the really young ones!). We all know we did foolish things in our youth. And let us admit it, some of those most foolish acts have been those we thought were things only we could do, and nobody else could even do so much as think of!
In retrospect, older and wiser now, some of those things I planned for and paid for dearly with a lot of worry, tension, and anxiety, but which did not see the light of day, or were shot down by others, were really not meant to be in the first place. They were not mine to do and execute, and not mine, to start with, for me to reap glories for.
Hubris is the mildest word to describe all this … a specie of pride, the kind that makes one think he is higher than he really is, better than he actually is, and brighter than he most likely is … the kind that leads eventually, not only to embarrassment, but grief.
The Italians have a famous homespun saying about the need to allow a great degree of latitude for God to do what He wills: L’UOMO PROPONE, MA DIO DISPONE … Man proposes, but God disposes!
David proposed to build a worthy dwelling place for God. But today, we are told it is God Himself who would build him a house! This is the promise of a God who is savior. God was going to build more than just a “house” but a dynasty that will stem down from David, a series of generations from which will be born an “heir” whose “kingdom shall endure forever.”
I still do planning in the small school I am working in as CEO. We just got the ball of strategic planning rolling a few weeks back. I still propose certain avenues for growth. I still conjure up big dreams, with others, for others, together with those who, like me, will no longer benefit from what we do. But older and wiser now – and, hopefully – holier, I know better than to think that it all depended on me and my brilliant (real or imagined) ideas!
Man may propose, but it is God who will ultimately dispose.
But there is more here than just being humble and keeping things low key. What is more here is what is at stake for all humankind, for generations and generations. And it has to do, not with you and me, but with God’s vision for humanity and the world.
That vision is the vision of God for the salvation of the world. It is bigger than David, bigger than anyone of us, bigger than the world, and bigger than life itself! It has nothing to do with a puny little house, no matter how grandiose in our human reckoning. When God works, He does so in big, broad strokes that cut across generations, countries, epochs, and cultures. In place of David’s house, God disposes of a dynasty. In place of a short-sighted and selfish plan, God offers a plan of salvation for all peoples.
Today, fourth Sunday of Advent, a few days before Christmas, we are reminded of how that big, broad stroke of a promise became real and historical, through the cooperation of a woman – a person who did not have the power, prestige, and hubris of a young David, a woman who demurely asked “how could things be,” and who was overtaken by fear and trepidation in her humility and lowliness.
And this, among so many others, is one more telling lesson for us who think the world cannot survive without us and our brilliant ideas … That lesson is clear! The great and grandiose plans of a God-Savior take place and are realized, through the workings and cooperation of the meek, the lowly, the least, the last, the lowest, and the lost by worldly standards!
Mary is top in my list today. But so, too, is John the Baptist. So too, was David, at least initially, until hubris took the better of him. Their lessons are worth remembering and living … Man proposes, but God disposes!