Today on the Fourth Sunday of Advent we hear in the readings of promises. In the first reading, a promise is made: God tells David that a descendant will be raised up as his heir, and that David’s house and kingdom will endure; that his throne shall stand firm forever.
In today’s Gospel, we see that promise kept. The angel Gabriel declares to Mary that she will conceive and bear a son and name him Jesus, that her son will be called the Son of the Most High and that God will give Him the throne of David to rule forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.
God makes a promise and God keeps a promise because God always keeps His promises. But there is something deeper, and amazing, going on here. Mary is not without choice: she agrees to become the mother of God. She agrees to become the Tabernacle that will conceive and bear Jesus, the Savior of all mankind.
The Gospel tells us that Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
These are perhaps the most significant words ever spoken by a human being. In saying that I am making a somewhat artificial distinction between Jesus and Mary; Jesus is fully God and fully man. Mary, though given special graces, is solely human.
Eve listened to the words of the Serpent and was tempted through pride into Original Sin; her husband Adam in his weakness followed her into that sin. Together, they changed the fate of all who came after them, and as a result we still fight the battle against pride and sin today.
Mary, however, listened to the words of God delivered by an angel and responded with humility. She agreed not to gain something, but to give something: to give life to the Son of God, to make it possible for God to take on human flesh and dwell among us. Mary, in her agreement to God’s saving plan, opened a path for all of us to find salvation. Eve’s pride made it necessary for us to find salvation; Mary’s humility made it possible for us to find salvation.
You and I fight that same battle every day. We may not be in a position to fight it in a way that has consequences for all of mankind, but the consequences for us as individuals cannot be overstate. Pride will lead us to selfishness and sin; humility will lead us to sacrifice and salvation.
Now lets take a step to the side and consider this: What is a Tabernacle? I said a moment ago that Mary agreed to become the Tabernacle that would conceive and bear Jesus. Here in our sanctuary the metal box that sits behind the altar is also called a tabernacle.
In the ancient Hebrew world, a “tabernacle” (in Hebrew, Mishkan) is a movable dwelling. It is, basically, a tent. But to King David, it was a very special kind of tent; it was the tent that held the ark of God. David was upset that, as he said, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!”
A tabernacle; and then, the Tabernacle. It held the Holy of Holies and was the enduring symbol to the people of God that the Lord was with them.
A tabernacle serves a very special purpose: it serves as the home of God. The ark of God dwelled in a tent. The Christ was conceived and grew to infancy in Mary’s womb. Here today our tabernacle holds the consecrated hosts – the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.
I invite all of you to take a look at the Tabernacle. Not a good, hard look; although, that might be worth doing also. No – I want you to take a squinty look. A blurry look. If you’re like me, you can just take off your glasses. If you are blessed with good eyesight, now is not the time for it.
Squint, and consider shape and color. Lines. Then think about what that tabernacle hold – the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. After Mass, when you go out to the parking lot, pause for a moment and look back at the church building. Squint. Consider shape and color. Lines. You should notice a similarity.
Now think about what the church holds: people who come faithfully week after week to hear the Word of God and to receive the Word made Flesh – the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. We become Tabernacles of Christ by what we consume; we become a dwelling place for our Lord and Savior.
When Mass ends today, the last thing I will say before we all depart is, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” These aren’t just nice words; these are key to the future of this parish here in Raytown and, really, to the church throughout the world.
When we live our faith, we become tabernacles of holiness, just like Mary. We follow her example and hope in our own small way to live up to the model she provides. Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life. Live your faith, let others see your joy. This is the beacon of hope that might lead another to Christ… might save a sinner from damnation. Does the world seem dark to you? Does it seem like the cards are stacked against us? Good! Rejoice! A world in darkness is all the more opportunity for your light to shine. Embrace holiness. Live holiness, just as the Virgin Mary lived holiness. When you are tempted, ask Mary for her intervention. Ask her to give you strength. Ask for her help. And let others see your joy, the joy that is found in our Savior and His promise of salvation. If we all do this – if we all truly live our faith and invite others to share our joy – we will fill this parish to overflowing