Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year B 2020
Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-5; 8-12; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
20 December 2020
Becoming the living temple of God and body of Christ
My dear friends,
Just as we were hoping for a peaceful Christmas heading towards a COVID normal New Year, another outbreak of the coronavirus has caused disruption and chaos yet again, this time much closer to home here in Sydney. Already the holiday plans of thousands are in tatters and the livelihoods of many are threatened. For the people of faith, too, the latest outbreak presents us with fresh challenges. We will need to learn to deepen our faith with and even at times without the benefit of in-person worship.
Scriptures on this Fourth Sunday in Advent offer us stories of faith that teach us how to respond to life’s unexpected moments. Whether they are big or small inconveniences, dramatic events or everyday frustrations, these are moments where the rubber hits the road. Our faith is put to the test along with our capacity for transformation.
In the first reading, we hear of the story of King David who had settled into his royal palace after a series of military conquests. He wanted to build a new temple in Jerusalem in order to house the Ark of the Covenant. It came as a surprise to David that God was more interested in relationship building than empire building. Through the prophet Nathan, it was revealed that God was chiefly concerned for the people. Hence, David’s priority ought to be building a house of justice, inclusion, and solidarity for God’s people as a witness to the nations. It was the internal transformation of hearts and minds rather than the external symbols of shrines and temples that set them apart. It is a lesson yet to be truly absorbed as both the history of Judaism and Christianity have shown.
The biblical narrative is at pains to tell us that God cannot be controlled or circumscribed by the human desire for certitude. He cannot be named; he cannot be seen; he cannot be housed; he cannot be contained in any human creed or formula. The transcendence of God defies our attempt to domesticate and to restrict the divine by human conventions. This is why Jesus in his parables and gestures consistently challenges our stereotyped attitudes, collapses our conventional boundaries, and stretches the limits of our love.
The Gospel tells us the story of how God’s plan unfolds and impacts the lives of Mary and Joseph. In the story of the Annunciation, Mary was disturbed by the words of the angel that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. Her plan to have a normal life with Joseph was interrupted. In spite of the mystery and uncertainty, Mary gave that faith-filled response “I am the handmaid of the Lord and let it be done unto me according to your word”. Mary would later express her alignment with God’s plan through the Magnificat, which is an alternative vision to the dominant narrative of “might is right”. The God of distributive justice, generosity, and inclusion mirrors the God who was concerned for the house of David.
My dear friends,
The Word of God today is a summons to us to live our lives with radical openness to God’s will that is revealed to us in so many ways. Like David and Mary, we need to be ready for divine interruptions; we need to adjust to life’s constant changes. Growth and transformation can occur if we learn to discern and act on what God requires of us in the light of lived experience.
In the time of the pandemic and indeed at the threshold of an emerging reality of a new spiritual exile, we Catholics need to deepen our sense of faith. The story of David reminds us that what matters is not that we have a great basilica but that we become the living temple. Even our Sunday worship becomes meaningless if we are not spiritually nourished and transformed. Whether we receive communion on the tongue or the hand, the object of our reception has to be the internal transfiguration to Christ.
After hearing the angel’s message, Mary’s life was fundamentally changed. She aligned her heart and mind to God’s unfolding plan. We must do the same as a body of Christ. We must have the courage to see how far we have drifted from the vision of Jesus, repent of our sins, and orientate ourselves once again to the self-emptying journey of the humble Servant-Leader. Let us pray that we have the faith and courage of Mary in responding to unexpected events and interruptions that come our way. May we not be afraid to wrestle with the God of relational fidelity and freedom. May we learn to live in vulnerable trust. May our Yes be total and unreserved as we endeavour to carry out the plan God has for every one of us.