4th Sunday of Advent (B)
Picture: cc David Ingram
My dear friends, if you had a choice, which would you rather be? An actor or the playwright? We know, of course, the difference between the two, right? An actor performs a particular role in a play. But it is the writer who creates that role. The writer determines what a character says and does in order to move the story forward. Even though the actor may give it a truly unique interpretation, his or her part is simply to enact the role as it is written. The writer creates the role. The actor performs it. Enfleshes it. Translates it from page to stage. Brings it to life. So, my dear friends, if you had a choice, which would you rather be? An actor or the playwright? This is the question that, I believe, our readings pose to us on this 4th and final Sunday of Advent.
An actor or the playwright? This too is the question posed to King David in the first reading. We’re told that the Lord had given him rest from all the enemies surrounding him… But, perhaps because he has been constantly fighting battles for such a long time, David seems to find the sudden inactivity difficult to bear. He proposes to build God a house, a temple. Of course, by doing this, David shows that he is not an ungrateful person. He does not forget God when things are going well for him. And yet, we may wonder why the king is so eager to immerse himself in a massive construction project, just when God has finally given him a precious opportunity to rest. The script calls for his character to take a break. But the king prefers to remain fully occupied. So which is David trying to be? An actor or the playwright?
This is also the question that God then poses to David. By pointedly reminding the king, not so much of what he has done for God, but of what God has done for him. Notice God’s repeated use of the pronoun I. I took you from the pasture… I have been with you on all your expeditions… I have cut off all your enemies… I will give you fame… I will give them rest… the Lord will make you a House… What is God doing, sisters and brothers, if not inviting the king to recognise that it is God who is the actual Playwright? It is God who has been writing the script. It is God who decides how the story goes. The king’s part is simply to be content with being an actor. To be happy playing the role that God is writing for him. For the benefit of all God’s people.
An actor or the playwright? Isn’t this also the question posed to Mary in the gospel? When the angel Gabriel appears to her with that very unsettling message, Mary actually already has a role to play. We’re told that she is betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David. A role given her by the traditions of her people. A role that requires her to be a wife to her husband, and a mother to their children. And yet, the Annunciation seeks to change that. Although she will remain wife to Joseph, Mary is asked to also become Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Mother of Christ. Mother of God. And, eventually, Mother of us all. Is she willing to accept this new role? Or will she cling stubbornly to the one she has already chosen? A difficult question to answer surely. Isn’t this why we are told that she was deeply disturbed? And yet, through open conversation with the angel, Mary receives the grace to obey. I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me. I am only the actor… I humbly accept the role that the Divine Playwright is offering me to play…
An actor or the playwright? Isn’t this a question that life often poses to each of us? In the many decisions that we have to make everyday? More major decisions like, what career or vocation to choose. Whether, when and whom to marry. Where to live. How many children to have… As well as more routine ones like what to eat, and what to wear. When to work, and when to rest… And don’t the answers to all these questions depend on the role we have each chosen to play? The question is who determines this role? Who is writing the script that we are performing?
In this modern society of ours, we are each taught to value individual autonomy. To strive to become the writer of our own story. To be free to decide what I to do with my own life. Which, in itself, is perhaps not a bad thing. And yet, isn’t it true that so many of us do not know what to do with this freedom, even when we have attained it? We do not know how to choose well. What to do with our time. How to spend our money. Ironically, in striving to write our own stories, without realising it, we often unwittingly end up playing roles that are imposed upon us. Causing pain and conflict and division. Roles like compulsive worker, and obsessive shopper… Climber of corporate ladders, and slave to mobile devices… Ignorer of the poor (including the neglected members of my own family), and polluter of the environment… In our anxious striving to be the carefree writers of our own respective destinies, don’t we often end up like those crowds in the gospels, over whom Jesus was moved to compassion? Harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36)?
But if it is true that we are meant to be actors and not playwrights, then where do we find the script from which to act? What is the particular role that we are each called to play? The one that might lead us to true freedom, instead of another form of oppression? We find the answer in the second reading. Glory to him who is able to give you the strength to live according to the Good News I preach, and in which I proclaim Jesus Christ…
The Good News, my dear friends, is Jesus Christ. In his Birth in a stable as a helpless infant. In his Dying on the Cross as a condemned criminal. In his Rising to new life as our saviour and friend. In the person of Jesus, we find the Script that the Divine Playwright has written for each of us to enact. The Role that God has specially crafted for us to play. Each of us in his or her own unique way. Translating what we find in the dusty pages of the Bible into the messy realities of daily living. Allowing God’s Word to become flesh in and among us. And, in so doing, becoming truly free. Isn’t this what we celebrate at Christmas? The Mystery of the Incarnation? Isn’t this the precious gift that Advent prepares us to receive? By calling us to repent of our sinfulness and self-absorption. Our arrogant attempts at being playwrights. In order that we may focus all our God-given talents on playing the Role that God has written for us in Christ Jesus.
My dear friends, as you know, William Shakespeare famously wrote that all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players… Although some may consider this a cause for sadness and lamentation. For us who are Christian, it is the incredible Good News for which we eagerly await in Advent. The revelation of a mystery kept secret for endless ages but now so clear that it must be broadcast… everywhere… to bring everyone to the obedience of faith.
An actor or the playwright?
Sisters and brothers, which of these are you trying to be today?