Monday, December 22, 2014

A God of the Unexpected

Our God is a God of the unexpected. Whatever you think God is going to do, he's got something better in mind. This is evident throughout our Christmas mysteries, so it's something we should focus on in our last couple days of Advent preparation. God does the unexpected, and it's always far better than what we had in mind.

That's present in our gospel reading today. So after hearing gospel stories for the last three weeks that helped prepare us for the Nativity, finally today with our story of the Annunciation we're getting down to the beautiful stories we know and love, we're getting to the heart of the matter. This is the final preparation for the plan God has had to rescue us since the Garden of Eden.

We saw a small piece of that plan in our first reading, so that's where we need to first turn our attention. This reading shows us a small episode from the life of King David, Jesus' ancestor. David is king early in Israel's history, so at this point there was no temple, so the Ark of the Covenant, the dwelling place of God, still rested in a tent from the desert wanderings. So David thinks, "This is no good, I need to build a temple for God." The problem with this is that David told God his own plans on what he was going to do for God, rather than receiving God's plan. As he's preparing to do this, God sends his prophet to tell David, "Not so fast. You want to build me a house? No, I've done so much for you already, and to prove my love I am going to do still more. I'm going to build you a house a kingdom, a dynasty that will last forever." Partially, God is referring to David's son Solomon who was allowed to build a temple. But primarily, God is referring to David's descendant, Jesus, whose throne does indeed last forever.

Then, in our Annunciation story, this throne is referred to again when the angel tells Mary "the Lord God will give him 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." This idea of kingdom is very important to Jesus' birth, his ministry, and even his death. It was mentioned generations before his birth, then here at the Annunciation the angel says that this baby will rule over an everlasting kingdom, throughout his ministry Jesus teaches us about the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God, and then at his trial Jesus explains to Pilate this his kingdom doesn't belong to this world.

So what is this kingdom? Like God so often does, he does the unexpected, and the unexpected plan is far greater than what we, in our limited vision, thought he was going to do. We had thought the kingdom would be a kingdom like David's kingdom: a place you could point to in the world with a king like other kings. But God had something bigger in mind: he envisioned a Church. This Church isn't bound to a single place; it can exist in all places so that all people, no matter where they're at, can be a part of it.

And, because God does the unexpected big thing as opposed to our planned mediocre thing, he didn't send just a normal king to rule over this kingdom. Rather than a normal king, he sent his only Son. Despite all the prophecies of the Old Testament, this one was difficult to predict. We knew God was good, but this good, good enough to send his only Son to save us? That was totally unexpected. God continually works through the unexpected.

But a huge unexpected thing we need to deal with is Mary, the one through whom we received Jesus. In Mary, God used the most unexpected vehicle of all to fulfill his plan, so let's examine Mary in the context of where she lived for a minute. Mary is a woman in a patriarchal society, she's young in a society that values age, and poor in a society that valued wealth. And she was unmarried, so she had access to none of the things that would have validated her existence. She's part of a tribe whose royal lineage has about played itself out, and she's part of a nation that currently finds itself under foreign occupation. Her circumstances put her among the lowest and most humble people in the world.

And yet, despite her being among the lowest in the world, the whole world, all of humanity, from Adam down to you and I, depended on her saying yes. One time in a homily, St. Bernard of Clairvaux addressed Mary and said, "The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent...Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death.  This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race" (quoted from the Office of Readings for December 20). The most unexpected thing of all God could do was to put his whole plan for salvation, the plan he has been working at since Eden, and put into the hands of a young virgin named Mary, and just wait for her yes.

God won our entire salvation by constantly doing the unexpected. God wants to do great unexpected things in your life too, things better than you expect. But for God to work in your life, for God to work in my life, I need to be more like Mary, and less like King David. David had his plans for what he wanted to do for God, instead of relying on the Lord for protection. Mary on the other hand, when she found out God's plan, her response was simply "Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord." If we learn from Mary to have this humble response to God's plan for each of us, then his power will do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. As we pray with Jesus and Mary the next several days, ask for the humility of Mary to surrender to whatever God wants to do in your life.

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