Fourth Sunday of Advent
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
It is fitting that Christmas corresponds, more or less, with the winter solstice, when the shortest day of the year occurs, signaling that from here on, the days will be getting longer. For this speaks of light overcoming darkness, a kind of natural counterpart to the Christmas event as Christians understand it, when a great manifestation or illumination occurs about the deeply hidden workings of God within and around our human affairs. A phenomenon corresponding to this is the appearance of the star to the magi, penetrating the darkness of the heavens, and enlightening these magi about something wonderful afoot.
Todays’ readings offer us some suggestions.
The first of these is the break-through idea dawning on King David, that he owed God one, that is, given God’s kindness to his kingship throughout his lifetime, it was high time David reciprocated by doing something for God, like building Him a magnificent temple, a "house of God", so to speak, that would be fitting for so great a God. Confiding this ambition to his prophet friend Nathan, David comes to learn that "no good deed goes unpunished", so to speak, when Nathan, duly instructed, proceeds to inform him (David) that he’s got it upside-down: David is in no position to do God favors; rather, God is the One Who does David favors. God equivalently informs David that He is not going to be outdone in the favor business. And so, He is the One Who is going to build David a house, with this further wrinkle to it: the house God has in mind is not one of stone and marble and the giant trees of Lebanon, but a house of flesh and blood, that is, the family bloodline of David, his descendants in the kingship of the Jewish people: the House of David, like, later on in history, the House of Stuart would become. Obviously, God is operating at a different level from David.
The second hint, corresponds to the star’s appearance, mentioned above. It is about a new phenomenon that is breaking in on us, and presented by Paul as a breath-taking idea: a secret kept over the ages. It has to do with "the command of the eternal God, made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith…" And the magi, the favored recipients of this sighting of the star in the dark heavens above, are obvious representatives of "all nations", coming from the east, as they did, in their pursuit of the star, right to the newborn King of the Jews, who, incidentally, was "of the house" that God promised to build for David. The code of silence has at last been broken; the secret is "out".
And the third hint is also associated with the star seen by the magi, and it notes that "…it preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was". (Mt 2.9) What a break for these wise men from the east! After trudging through unknown places, their trusty GPS worked for them right to the end. Mary now has corroboration of the angel Gabriel’s promise that her newborn son "will be great and will be called Son of the Most High" and be the recipient of "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." With such significant personages as the Magi gathered about her son, she must have wondered: how did they know? And they, in their turn, surely marveled that such a young woman could be the mother of one whom they had identified to the inhabitants of Jerusalem as "the newborn king of the Jews" and as one delineated by "his star". (Mt. 2.2)
So, as the days begin to lengthen, and as the darkness starts to recede, we have counterparts of the star at work in our lives, helpfully throwing light on God’s works gradually emerging within and around us, giving us hope that, as the hymn says, "…if God be for us, who can be against?"
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.