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The Peace Pulpit
Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

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By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI.  Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted.  From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week.
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Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 22, 2002

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16

When King David was settled in his palace, and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side, he said to Nathan the prophet, "Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!" Nathan answered the king, "Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you." But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said: "Go, tell my servant David, 'Thus says the LORD: Should you build me a house todwell in?'

"It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.
I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance. Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old, since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies. The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.
I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever." 

Romans 16:25-27

Brothers and sisters: To him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God, 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.

 Luke 1:26-38

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, and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you." But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

"Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and 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."
But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" And the angel said to her in reply, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God." Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her. 

* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published numerous articles and reports.

* Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.

For your convenience, the Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCC).

** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

As we come very close to Christmas and complete our celebration of the Advent season, it's a time when we expect to experience great joy in the spirit of hope.  But I must tell you that this past week I felt very sad and overwhelmed with sadness. It happened the other morning when I was saying the morning prayers of the church.  One of the passages of scripture that made up the morning prayer on Friday was from the book of the prophet Jeremiah.  This is what it says:  "This you will say to them, 'Let my eyes shed tears, night and day, without ceasing, for with a great wound has the daughter of my people been wounded a most grievous wound.  If I go into the countryside, I see those slain by the sword.  If I enter the city, I see the ravages of famine.'"  For the prophet and the priest did not understand what was happening in the land. 

     Then Jeremiah cries out to God, "Have you then rejected Judah forever. Do you abhor Zion? Why have you wounded us and left us with no hope of recovery?  Yahweh, we know our wickedness and that of our ancestors and the times we have sinned against you.  For your namesake, do not despise us.  Do not dishonor the throne of your glory. Remember us. Do not break your covenant with us." 

     The reason that passage made me feel such sadness was that Jeremiah could be saying those very words today, right now. 

     I think about the ravages of those lands where war is overwhelming to people.  I think about the Holy Land itself. 

     I heard on the radio, just the other day, a commentator at Bethlehem describing how everything is dark -- no lights where Jesus was born, because it's an occupied land once more where people are suffering and many are being killed. 

     But I think too of the people that I met this past summer in Afghanistan when I was with those friends from "Families for a Peaceful Tomorrows" who had someone killed on September 11th and who were going to Afghanistan to visit with people who had family killed because of the terror of the bombing there.  When I watched as people came together and weep and grieve with one another, it was such an overwhelming sorrow and sadness. 

     And I think about what we are threatening now, to go to war again and bomb Iraq.  The last time, it was 42 days and 42 nights of planes dropping a load of bombs every 30 seconds.  People living terrorized and traumatized of being killed.  And then you hear too that President Hussein is saying how he will carry out a scorch earth policy -- destroy the oil wells, destroy the crops, destroy everything. 

     But who will suffer?  The people. 

     What Jeremiah says is just so powerfully true where he cries out how he sees violence, suffering and dying everywhere.  And that's that way our world looks right now.  Maybe not to us right here if we don't let ourselves think of what's happening in other parts of the world.  But to most people in the world, it's a world of terrible suffering and violence and death.

     And it will get worse if we go to war.  Far worse.

     And, of course, it's not supposedly to be that way.  And so we have to ask ourselves, "What's gone wrong?" 

     And that's why we really have to listen to today's lessons because God makes an extraordinary intervention in human history.  As we heard in the gospel when the angel says to Mary, "Do not be afraid Mary, God has looked kindly on you. You shall conceive and bear a son and you shall call him Jesus, a name that means God saves, God loves. And that son shall be great and shall be called son of the most high."  And then, especially, these words, "God will give to him the kingdom of David, his ancestor, he will rule over the people of Jacob forever.  His reign shall have no end."

     Remember what God had said to David, through Nathan, the prophet, that we just heard in the first lesson. "Go and tell the servant David that this is what Yahweh says, 'Are you able to build a house for me to live in.?'"  And God goes on to say how he hasn't lived in a house, but God has always been present to the people.  He says, "Now, tell my servant, this is what Yahweh of host says, 'I will provide a place for my people, Israel, that they may live there in peace. They shall no longer be harassed, nor shall wicked people oppress them. From the time when I appointed judges over my people Israel, it is only to you that I have given rest from your enemies.  Yahweh tells you that God will build you a house.  When the time comes for you to rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your son after you, the one born of you, and I will make his reign secure. He shall build a house for my name and I will firmly establish peace forever.  I will be a God to him and he shall be my son.  But I will not withdraw my kindness ever from him. Your house and your reign shall last forever."

     God was promising that there would come a time when there would be peace. The reign of God would happen.  And in today's gospel, the angel announces to Mary that this is the moment. The one born of her will be that descendant of David, who will be the one that will carry on the house of Israel forever. But now become the community of disciples of Jesus, the church.

     Saint Paul rejoices so mightily in this when he cries out, "Now is revealed the mysterious plan, kept hidden for long ages in the past, the plan that is now revealed that God has come in Jesus to save all peoples, not just the chosen people, but the gentiles, all peoples, and that the reign of God is about to happen.  Peace will come, security for everyone, fullness of life, joy, everything we need to be human will be provided. The reign of God is at hand." 

     That is what is being announced in today's gospel. 

     And that's what we should be celebrating.  And that's what should make us feel great joy. Yet, something has gone wrong.  And I think we can find the problem of what has gone wrong when we listen carefully to Mary when she says, "Behold, your servant."  The word even means slave.  She says to God, "I'm ready to be your absolute slave, to obey you in everything.  Let it happen to me as you say."

     In other words, Mary accepts the word of God in its fullness.  And she's ready to live that word, to follow that word.  And so Jesus really becomes alive in her.  And Jesus then is born and able to proclaim the good news of God's reign happening.  Jesus becomes the one who establishes the house of God forever. 

     But it's important for us to notice how that happens.  The prediction of Nathan to David was that Jesus, the Messiah, the one who was to establish the house of Israel forever, was to be a king.  But throughout his life, Jesus rejected any attempt to make him king.  There were two or three times when people wanted to make him their king.  He says, "No," and even runs away and hides on one occasion. 

     When does it happen? 

     The time that he is proclaimed king is when he is nailed to the cross and above his head is inscribed:  Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews.  He becomes king when he is willing to die rather than to kill. When he teaches us how to die, not how to kill, die loving and forgiving those who even torture you and do evil to you.  Jesus is manifesting that transforming power of God's love that can turn hatred around and turn violence into peace.  It's the only way.  And that is confirmed when Jesus is raised from the dead by God. 

     The way of Jesus is the only way to bring peace into the world.  We must heed the way of Jesus if we want the promises to be fulfilled for us. We must be like Mary and stand before God as Jesus is born into our midst once more and say, "Behold your servant.  Let it be done to me according to your word."  Our pledge to live according to the word of God revealed to us through Jesus. 

     So when we celebrate the feast of Christmas this week, I pray that every one of us will truly understand who this Jesus is, that he has come to break down, to eliminate, the barrier between heaven and earth, between God and ourselves.  He becomes one of us and shows us how to live according to the way of God.  And if we can say to God, through Jesus, "Be it done to me according to your word," then we can be confident that God's plans for us, plans for peace, love, and joy, will be fulfilled.  But each of us must be ready to say, "Be it done to me according to your word."

     In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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