Some years ago, I remember going out to dinner with my Mom and Dad on a Saturday Night after Mass. In a quick move, I grabbed the check from the waiter to pay for the meal. While my Mom was very touched by the gesture, my father was kind of reserved about it – he said “thank you,” but I could tell he wasn’t thrilled about it. When we got home later, and Mom was in another room, he brought it up again and said I shouldn’t do that again. Not that he wasn’t grateful for it – but I couldn’t quite tell if he thought as a priest I couldn’t afford to do something like that for my parents, or if it was an Italian pride thing (which I remembered similar “fights” over the check going on between my Grandfather and my father). In a typical Father-Son dialogue/debate (which, being Italian, of course, got louder), I know that I got more dramatic, saying, “How do I get in trouble for taking my parents out to dinner???” At this point, Mom came in and told my father to stop it and leave me alone.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT – December 24, 2023. I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim
That memory came to mind when I read the first reading tonight. On this last Sunday of Advent, we heard from the Old Testament, the Second book of Samuel. This book tells some of the history of the people of Israel. This particular episode is about a thousand years before the birth of Christ, focusing on King David and his reign. In this passage, King David is sincere, genuine, and grateful as he speaks to Nathan, the prophet. His reign had really officially begun now as they had finally entered Jerusalem. They had brought the Ark of the Covenant with them. Yes, it was the same Ark that Indiana Jones was looking for in the original film. Indiana Jones is not real. What was real, though, was the Ark, which was the holiest of holy things for the Jewish people. God had given Moses directions on exactly how the Ark was to be built and handled and what it would contain. It was a physical representation of the presence of God – which had contained the two stone tablets on which God had written the ten commandments, the rod of Aaron a symbol of his priesthood, and a pot of some manna – the heavenly bread God rained down to feed his people when they had been in the wilderness. This was the holiest of holy things for the Jewish people.
King David joyfully and ecstatically led the Ark, the “presence” of God, into Jerusalem. Which is where we pick up in tonight’s reading. He recognizes in all humility all that the Lord God has done for him. Enemies vanquished, his faithfulness been rewarded, and he is now at peace in a palace. So King David wants to return the favor. He wants to do something in return. His heart was in the right place, thinking if I have such a house, the Lord God deserves one too. Something special for us to keep that Ark in. The prophet Nathan initially says, “That sounds great!” Then God had a conversation with Nathan, which at first felt like my Dad not fully appreciating my gesture of “picking up the check.”
But what is the Lord saying to David? David, you can’t pay me back by building me a house – I’m paraphrasing here, but God is basically saying, “Not for nothing, son, you couldn’t even if you wanted to – I am the creator of all creation.” I don’t think David imagined this kind of response – but there’s something beautiful in this exchange between God and David: between a Father and Son. Because when you boil it all down, What can you do, what can you get, what can you give to the God who has everything – who is everything? There’s only one thing God wants and doesn’t have. That’s our heart. That’s what He is saying to David. He tells David to be faithful, be obedient, listen to my word, follow my commands, and then He lays out abundant promises that would be fulfilled when he does. Spoiler alert: David will struggle and fail in that regard, so that won’t happen in David’s lifetime.
That’s why this story is paired with this beautiful and familiar story of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Centuries later, through a descendant of David is the fulfillment of God’s promises. It is also a perfect opportunity to go Catholic nerd for a minute to point out that this is why we call Mary the Ark of the New Covenant. In her womb contains the heavenly bread not manna in the desert but Jesus, the living bread that came down from heaven; the Word of God not written on stone tablets but in Jesus the word become flesh and not a rod a symbol of the priesthood, but Jesus, the great high priest.
This Gospel hits this incredible climax where the entire history of all creation, and God Himself waits for Mary’s “yes.” God wants to save humanity, but not without humanity’s cooperation. God wants to save humanity using the most beautiful and complicated means – the human heart.
In these last remaining days (or actually, at this point – hours) until we jump into the beautiful festivities of Christmas, where gift-giving between family and friends will become the focus of much of our celebration, maybe we can keep coming back to that question of what can we give the God who has everything? Even though we know the answer, we often want to give him something else, something easier. Look God I came to Mass on Christmas Eve Eve! Merry Christmas, God, I only had that $20 bill in my wallet, and I actually gave it in the collection… Happy Birthday Jesus -when my mother-in-law my son-in-law said something, or did something stupid, I didn’t actually say something back – I didn’t even roll my eyes!!! Those are all nice, and I’m sure God appreciates all of those things. But those things are a lot further down the list and not exactly what He is asking for.
It took me a long time to appreciate, sadly probably not till after he had passed away, that the back and forth over paying for a bill wasn’t that my Dad’s ego being hurt or that he felt I couldn’t afford to do it. It was that for my Dad, his taking his son out to dinner was a way of his continuing to “take care” of his son just as he had all my life. Especially as a grown man and now a priest, there weren’t a lot of ways that he could still be a Dad like he had been for me all my life, and that was one of his things. All He wanted was for me to be the best son and “father” as a priest I could be in return. That was what made him proud. That was the only gift he really wanted.
For David and all of us, there’s only one thing the God who has everything doesn’t have and desperately wants. How do we give Him our hearts in the way He desires, in the way He deserves? We have our Blessed Mother Mary’s example as a witness and guide. She had to have been prayerfully attentive to the Lord before this Gospel encounter. She’s not frightened by the sight of the angel but is more in wonder and awe at what she hears is being said to her. Whatever thoughts of self and her plans, whatever fears of inadequacy, all fade as she hears God’s request and humbly says yes, yes you can have my heart, my womb, my entire existence is yours. That is hard. Which is why we might find ourselves acting and relating to David far more than to Mary. But each time we remain faithful and obedient, every time we’re even asking the question, ‘What can I give God, who has everything?’ and sincerely want to give Him our heart, in His love, His mercy, He meets us in our lowliness, He shows us how nothing is impossible, He too is glorified as a Proud Father who sees us trying to be the best sons and daughters that we can be. He sees us giving Him our hearts, the only gift He wants.