Sunday, December 24, 2023

From The Genie To The Flame

4th Sunday of Advent (B)

Readings: 2 Samuel 7: 1-5, 8-12, 14, 16; Psalm 88 (89): 2-5, 27, 29; Romans 16: 25-27; Luke 1: 26-38

Picture: By Ahmed Zayan on Unsplash

You better watch out; you better not cry; you better not pout; I’m telling you why… My dear friends, do you know why? That’s right. Santa Claus is coming to town. And what does Santa do when he comes? Well, if we’re good, he brings us presents. This is how a popular song teaches us to imagine Christmas. To associate it with the presence of someone who acts like a genie in a lamp. Someone who makes us happy by making our wishes come true. But even if this image may hold a grain of truth, it’s quite different from the one our scriptures paint for us on this final Sunday of Advent.

To see this, notice first how both king David and the virgin Mary are told the same thing at the start. Words very similar to what we hear at Mass. The Lord is with you. God is already with them. But instead of making their wishes come true, God begins by disrupting their plans. David wants to build a Temple. God says, no. Mary is betrothed to Joseph. Which means they’re already married, just not yet living together. Still God asks her to conceive and bear a son by the Holy Spirit, and so run the risk being accused of adultery.

Thankfully, God doesn’t only disrupt their plans. God also expands their vision. God shifts their attention from what they want to do to what God is doing. Instead of letting David occupy himself with a construction project lasting for years, God promises to establish for him a dynasty that will endure forever. A promise that will be fulfilled through Mary. For beyond being the wife of a distant long-forgotten descendant of royalty, she is to become the mother of a king whose origin is hidden in God, and whose reign will have no end.

By thus expanding their vision, God also ignites their passion. By reminding them of all that God has done and is doing, God fills their hearts with wonder, gratitude and hope. Enabling them to honestly address their concerns to God in prayer, and to humbly accept God’s will in action. To become God’s handmaid. To be brought to the obedience of faith. To be moved to give glory to God. To sing joyfully of God’s steadfast love, not just with their voices, but also through their lives. In other words, God does for David and Mary what the second reading says God is able to do for us all. God gives them the strength to live according to the Good News.

The presence of One who disrupts our plans, expands our vision, and ignites our passion. Isn’t this what we celebrate at Christmas? Which shouldn’t be all that surprising, right? For doesn’t a baby often do the same to its parents? Disruption, expansion, and ignition. Together they bring to mind these words from another song, one we don’t often associate with Christmas: Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning. Give me oil in my lamp, I pray. Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning. Keep me burning till the break of day…

Sisters and brothers, could it be that the One for whom we are waiting is more like an illuminating and purifying fire than an indulgent genie? If so, then what must we do to give him a proper welcome this Christmas?

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