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Sunday 24 December 2023 Advent 4

Welcoming the Messiah in purity of heart

2 Samuel 7:1-16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-28

By Patrick Kilgarriff

An active retired priest of the archdiocese of Birmingham, based at St George’s, Worcester

Context: a city church with a congregation gathering people from Europe, Asia, Africa, India, the Philippines and East Timor

Aim: to help people focus, amidst the excitement, busyness and distractions of Christmas Eve on the great joy which we shall celebrate in a few hours’ time

I have read that the House of Savoy, from Turin, the former royal house of Italy, had an unbroken line of male succession for a thousand years. Many rulers would have wished for this blessing. There is an even greater promise in our first reading from the second book of Samuel.

King David has an idea that he will build a house for the Lord. It doesn’t seem right that he lives in a palace and the Lord still has to make do with a tent, like they had in the desert. The prophet Nathan has to tell the king that God has other ideas.

You build me a house? I called you from looking after sheep and I will build you a house that will last. The Lord promises him a future descendant, whose sovereignty will last for ever. ‘I will be a father to him and he a son to me.’

This is the background in Luke’s Gospel of the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary. She is to conceive a son and he will be called Jesus. ‘The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will rule over the house of David for ever.’

Empires follow one another. Nothing lasts, Clearly, these promises are beyond human understanding. Yet God sees things differently to way that humans see things.

In Nazareth in Galilee, Gabriel appears to a young girl called Mary, He tells her ‘Rejoice so highly favoured, the Lord is with you.’ Both she and Joseph are descended from David. Her son will be great and will be called Son of the Most High.

‘How can this come about?’ asks Mary, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel tells her that the Spirit will come upon her. ‘The power of ‘the Most High will cover you with its shadow. The child will be holy, and he will be called Son of God.’

Just as David is called from the fields, Mary too is young and unknown. Both are chosen by God and filled with his grace. They are both open and gifted. They can do nothing by themselves, but God gives them many graces, in order that they might fulfil the roles for which they have been chosen.

This is the fourth Sunday of Advent. Tomorrow, we shall celebrate the nativity of Jesus Christ our Saviour. St Luke gives us a touching picture of the conversation between Mary and Gabriel to bring to our minds the love which the Father has for his people. Through the blessed virgin Mary, he will send Jesus, his Son, yet a human person like us. He will enter our world and establish his spiritual kingdom which will endure.

As you ponder the scriptures set before us on this day of expectation, look again at the short extract from St Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. God will give us the strength to live according to the good news which has been handed on to us with care. Like David and Mary, we too have been chosen and graced with God’s power.

How do you and I live the good news? We receive it with joy. It is not a burden. We listen to God and talk to him in prayer. We come together to praise him. We look after our families selflessly. We are good neighbours and try to be easy to work with. But we also keep an eye on our motives and desires, for we make many mistakes. We are sinners. An expression from St Matthew’s Gospel in the Beatitudes is very helpful. With God’s grace we seek to be ‘pure in heart’. We stay close to the Lord and we attempt to see that what we think and say and do fits in with what the Lord desires. We simply ask ourselves: would Jesus think like this? Would he say this? Would he act like this? If we can have this attitude, then over time with God’s help we will become pure in heart. Paul tells us that this is the way the eternal God wants things to be.

Well, it’s Christmas Eve, we are filled with excitement and there are many things to do. You have come here today to focus yourselves before the great feast. God’s kingdom is established through all that Jesus did. Each of us has our part to play. We ask for God’s help to be genuine. ‘We give glory to him, therefore, through Jesus Christ, for ever and ever. Amen.’

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