The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Fourth Sunday of Advent||December 18, 2005|
If we listen deeply to the scripture lessons today we will hear God proclaiming a marvelous truth: God is always faithful. God's promises will always be fulfilled. We can have unlimited trust and confidence in God. God makes an extraordinary promise in the first lesson today when speaking to the prophet Nathan. God tells David that he will be the beginning of the house of Israel. Remember the reading? David wanted to build a temple, a house for God and God reminds David that he doesn't need a temple that God is living with them in their midst all the time. God doesn't need a special place for us to be aware that God is present. But God says to David, "I will build you a house and it's a house that will last forever." And he wasn't talking about a building. He was talking about a dynasty, the house of David, the rule of David that would go on forever.
And yet if we follow the history of the chosen people after David, we discover that yes his son Solomon succeeded him. He was a marvelous and extraordinary king, but then shortly after that the kingdom of David began to fall apart. Historically, you would think that God was not keeping the promise, that God had not been faithful. But then finally and suddenly you hear in the Gospel lesson today the angel Gabriel tell Mary that she's to have a son. He will be great. He'll rightly be called "son of the most high." God will give him the kingdom of David, his ancestors, and he will rule over the people of Jacob forever. And his reign will have no end. Now, I'm sure that's not the way David understood the promise when he first heard it, but that's how God fulfills the promise hundreds and hundreds of years later in a way that was totally unexpected: Jesus came into the world the very son of God and established God's reign that will go on forever.
It took great confidence on the part of Mary to say "yes" to that angel. The angel made the promise that her son was to be the son of the most high, that he would be the beginning of a new reign of God. But how could Mary have any evidence, any proof? She simply trusted in God and God's promise. And that's what we're called to do also, to try to become more aware that God is always faithful, that God fulfills the promises that God makes. Sometimes it will not be in the way we expect. We'll be surprised by how God does fulfill the promises God makes to us, how God is always faithful to us.
Last Sunday I shared with you a letter that was written by one of our members, Mary Black, and I think I'll share part of it again because it's such a clear example of how God surprises us in the way that God is faithful, and fulfills promises God makes to us. You may remember that Mary was writing to the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church because of the recent decree that came from the Vatican about gay people and the seminary. She says:
"As a mother I would like you to know how much it hurts to hear the child you raised and loved referred to once again as "objectively disordered" by the church. I cannot image the pain and despair it causes all the chaste, gay priests who have served the church so steadfastly and who continue to do so. ...
God was faithful to Mary and Jerry Black and their daughter. God fulfills the word God has promised to them that their daughter would be a gift. And she is. But it took great confidence and trust in God to have that promise fulfilled and realize that it was fulfilled in a way that was a surprise. It was different from what they expected. That will often happen if we try to place our trust in God that what we expect may not be the way it comes out but it will be God's faithfulness that will make it happen in a way that will be for our good.
You know even the great saints spoken of in the scriptures had to have profound trust in God's promises and sometimes misunderstood how God was going to fulfill those promises. Earlier this week there was a passage in one of the weekday masses in the Gospel about John the Baptist. John the Baptist, you may remember was the one who proclaimed that Jesus is the messiah. But then later John the Baptist was arrested by King Harrod and thrown into jail; he was about to be executed. He sent messengers to Jesus to ask. "Are you the one who is to come or should we expect another?" John the Baptist had preached about the coming of the messiah, but he thought of the messiah as one who would as he put it, "take the axe to the root of the trees and strike them down, destroy them." The messiah would come as a judge, as one who would quickly overwhelm the forces of evil in a violent way. But Jesus didn't act that way, and so he tells the messenger, "Go back and tell John what you've seen and heard." And he describes how the blind are beginning to see, the deaf are beginning to hear, the lame are beginning to walk, the sick are being nurtured, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. What Jesus was telling John was: "Yes, God is transforming this world through the message that I bring, but it's not in a sudden, dramatic way. It's a slow transformation. The way of love is beginning to penetrate into the world, into the lives of people. They're being changed. The reign of God is happening." In other words Jesus said to John, "Yes, I am the one, but I am fulfilling God's promises in a way different from what you had thought."
We still have failed to hear this message that Jesus gave to John the Baptist. I thought of this this week when Gov. Schwarzenegger in California refused to give clemency to Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the black man who was on death row. Gov. Schwarzenegger, I guess, thought that he knew best how to judge people. So the man was executed. But think about what was happening: This was a man, Tookie Williams, who had begun to change his whole life and had begun to do good in the world, to heal those places in his own life where he was so wounded, and to begin to spread the healing and the goodness and the love to others. A slow transformation was taking place and it could have gone on. That's how the reign of God can happen. But when we decide how we will make it happen, we're probably wrong. God acts differently.
God is faithful, but God's ways are different from our ways. God's thoughts are different from our thoughts, and so if we really want to show our trust in God, we have to be ready to follow where God leads not where we decide to go. This is why it requires such trust. We have to believe that God is faithful, that God does fulfill all the promises God makes and that God's reign is happening and will come to it's fulfillment at some point.
But, of course, this can be extremely challenging, trusting in God even when it seems that what God is asking of us would be impossible. We might wonder sometimes how God is being faithful in certain circumstances. Sometimes tragedy happens. This came home to me very clearly this week when I received an e-mail from friends of mine, a married couple, good friends of mine over many, many years. They wrote to me:
"We received some devastating news on Friday. Our 10 year old granddaughter was found to have a brain tumor which is inoperable and malignant. And the doctors say she probably has only nine to 12 months to live. All of this was completely unexpected. Otherwise she is in perfect health. She had a slight problem with double vision in one of her eyes. Her parents took her to an ophthalmologist for a routine visit. He couldn't find anything wrong with the eye and suggested an MRI which revealed the tumor and then it's been confirmed twice more."A 10-year-old youngster. A beautiful child. Nine to 12 months of life. There is a challenge. How will those parents and grandparents trust that somehow God is present in this? That God's love is still there and that God is faithful? That's the challenge, the kind of challenge that could face any one of us when we are asked to believe and trust in God's goodness, in God's love.
Perhaps for us to do this we should turn once more to the example of Jesus himself. Jesus was the son of God as proclaimed by the angels in today's Gospel. He was the one who was to establish the kingdom of David forever, but not once in his life was he acclaimed as king. He never was installed as the ruler of Israel. You remember the one time in the Gospel where Jesus is proclaimed as king? When he's hanging on the cross. Over his head is the scripture, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews". How ironic! The king crucified on a cross. Executed as a criminal. And yet God affirms the truth of this, because God raised Jesus from the dead. God's promise was fulfilled fully in Jesus. He is the fulfillment of the promise to David. Jesus is the king of the universe, the one who rules over all of us in his glory as son of God. Jesus had to pray with great confidence to God. You may remember on the cross he cried out, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" And yet he could finally say, "God in your hands I shall rest my spirit."
Each of us has to pray that we can begin to trust in God the same way. And no matter what happens in our lives, no matter what God asks of us, if we're willing to trust and to follow where God leads us we will find ourselves filled with the joy and the goodness of God and the love of God just as Jesus did. We pray that as we listen to today's scripture we will hear clearly the truth: God is faithful, God's love is always trustworthy. Pray that we will hear that and that we will live our lives everyday trusting totally in God and in whatever God asks of us.
In the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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