Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 24, 2023 – 10:30 AM
Señor Sadrac Camacho, Lay Preacher
II Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a,16 | Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
Romans 16:25-27 | Luke 1:38

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.

“Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

The traditional prayer just recited is quite popular in Catholic communities like our own. It typically goes by one of two names. One is the “Hail Mary,” which of course makes complete sense. Mary, as the Theotokos, the “Mother of God Incarnate” and our intercessor, is worthy of adoration and praise. The other name used, however—the “Angelical Salutation”—makes us think a bit harder. It brings us right to the crux of the meaning of this Fourth Sunday in Advent.

Within the context of today’s readings from Sacred Scripture, it quickly becomes evident that the prayer just uttered is in part based on the Archangel Gabriel’s visit (his salutation) to Mary in the Gospel according to Luke, wherein he exclaims to her, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” This narrative marks the Annunciation, the beginning of that profound Mystery, which is the Incarnation—that God became flesh and dwelt amongst us. We must then take into careful consideration what Mary teaches us about Christmas.

To discuss this, we must direct our attention to King David in the First Reading from Second Samuel, Chapter 7. King David, here, is perplexed by what he considers to be a glaring incongruity, a mismatch. He sees the magnitude of his political and militaristic victories. From there, he has “built a palace of cedar [wood].” Simultaneously, he sees the lowly status of the Ark of God, which has “remain[ed] in a tent.” It is through this Ark at the Holy Tabernacle, behind curtains in a tent, that God chose to make himself present before a people condemned to wander the desert, now a powerful nation. He seeks, then, to raise God’s dwelling, so that it mirrors his. God, however, makes clear the asymmetry of their relationship. Without God, King David would have nothing. Just like Saint Paul said in the Second Reading from Romans, “To him who can strengthen you… be glory forever.” It is God who strengthens us, not the other way around. There exists only what God can do for King David, and in King David, God embeds his plan for humanity.

It is at this point that we might begin to pick up on some of the narrative elements that prefigure Mary and the Annunciation. God wills a house for King David. This house proceeds from his offspring. Indeed, the house is the Davidic lineage itself, from which Jesus will be born. As the Tabernacle and the Ark—of the Old Covenant— are to God so are thus the Davidic lineage and Mary to God.

In the old Ark of the Covenant, Mary is prefigured, and as such, in Mary the New Ark is presented. Mary is, in other words, the Ark of the New Covenant. The Ark from where God made himself present at the side of two Cherubim angels, which once held manna (meaning bread from heaven), the Ten Commandments (the Word), and Aaron’s Rod (the instrument of Israel’s reconciliation), upon the arrival of the Archangel Gabriel, now becomes Mary, who comes to hold in her womb the Word made flesh that will redeem humanity.

An inexorable lesson comes to fruition. It goes without saying that as humans we are deeply flawed creatures. As inheritors of the sin of Adam, we tend not away from but instead towards error, to perceptions and behaviors that satisfy superficial longings but make us fall short of the stature of Christ, prioritizing our desires over and against God.

We are concupiscent. We are sinners. We, therefore, often miss sight of the forest for the trees. Sure, King David noblely sought to honor God. But, at the same time, King David wanted something nice, something to satisfy a shortsighted material longing. A material longing that was clearly at odds with God’s eternal plan for humanity. This is our nature. We take into account man’s ways and forget about God’s ways. We are near-sighted, and this myopia impedes us from aligning ourselves with God. Even when we seek to do good, we often fail to recognize the extent to which our ostensibly selfless endeavors, at bottom, borrow from our selfish tendencies. Recognizing this is perhaps most important at this time of year.

By tomorrow, Christians and non-Christians around the world will have gifted each other mountains of things. I will not go into platitudes about Christmas, about materialism or commercialism. These are not the point. The point, or rather the question, is: when we celebrate Christmas, do we do so in a way that honors God? Or are we listening to a self-centered desire when we seek to do good by God? Let us not simply play the part this year. Instead, think about it, and think about it for a while: why do I celebrate Christmas?

Concerning Christmas gifts, analogous to King David’s cedar palace, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with these. God makes them possible. Rather, it is when we worship considering only what God has made possible for us, the building of structures and giving of gifts, that we start to confuse the underlying meaning and entirely forget what he deserves reciprocally. In celebrating Christmas, we must remember that we are honoring God’s gift to the World and not simply erecting displays of our faith.

n considering these pressing questions, we must look towards her who, at least in the context of this Fourth Sunday in Advent, is King David’s foil–Mary. King David, by way of the Holy Spirit through the prophet Nathan, comes to learn that his status, however high, can never produce anything apart from God such as to honor God. Only in God’s plan for King David (and humanity) can King David (and we) honor God.

Mary, on the other hand, never comes to ask Gabriel a question like King David’s. She does not ask why God has chosen such a fate for her. She instead asks “How?” How will this virgin birth occur? And upon an answer, uncompromisingly accepts the infinity of God’s power, saying resoundingly, “May it be done to me according to your word.”

As such, in the Annunciation, Mary demonstrates why she is so “full of grace.” Grace refers to divine favor, an act of love that is both undeserved and unexpected. It is through God’s election—his spontaneous love— that sin is cleansed and we are sanctified. As such, Mary found herself sinless, an instrument of God’s eternal plan, awaiting the birth of a child but not just any child, God Incarnate, by way of a miraculous virgin birth.

One might be tempted to think we can gain nothing from Mary’s election. She was simply chosen. Well, we must realize that we were chosen too. Christmas shows us this. Through the life and death of Jesus, we were made worthy to stand before God, and not out of any debts owed or repaid, but because God loves us. The most extraordinary event in human history, barring perhaps the Paschal Mystery, was that God became flesh and dwelt among us. There is much to learn from Mary. She teaches us how to receive Christmas in the right way, with open arms.

In Mary, Advent was inaugurated as our God became incarnate within her blessed womb. Christmas is God’s gift to humanity. In the gift of Jesus, his ministry, and sacrifice, we learn to love God as he loves us, and we learn to love one another. This gift is surely unexpected and underserved but it nevertheless demands our acceptance. God is infinitely loving. He elected Israel not because of some characteristic special to the Jewish people but instead out of an act of spontaneous love.

In this same way, Mary, the Daughter of Israel, is elected, and she does not fight this love, however undeserved it is. She surrenders herself to it, and in this discrete act of love, God’s love is received by the whole of humanity.

It goes without saying that God’s ways are not our ways. As humans, we cannot entirely grasp this coming Mystery. It is astonishing–God became a human being to save the world. We can continue asking “why” with no resolution. Rather, in asking “how”, like Mary, we learn of God’s infinite power, and he willed us to be worthy to stand before him, as we will shortly do with the sacrifice at the altar. Mary shows us we are both actors and instruments of His grand design. We are chosen through love but nevertheless free to act.

In preparing ourselves to receive this gift of the Christ Child, we must ask ourselves if we are acting like Mary. Am I really accepting or rather fighting God’s love? Am I erecting structures that keep me away from doing right by Him? Am I receiving this Gift in its totality, with all its profundity and implications, following what Jesus taught in his earthly ministry?

Let us with His help answer these questions according to His will so that we may be ready to accept this Gift of Christmas with open arms. AMEN.