12/18/2014 9:00:00 AM WORD OF FAITH What God does for us
FROM A READING FOR DEC. 21, 2014: FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT 'The angel Gabriel was sent by God....He came to [Mary] and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you....And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name Him Jesus."' - Luke 1:26,28,31
Biblical faith rarely revolves around what we can do for God. Our sacred authors are much more concerned with reminding us about the things God has done and will do for us. That's certainly the case with Sunday's three inspired writers.
Nathan, for instance, dead-ends David's plans to build a house for Yahweh (II Samuel 7:1-5,8b-12,14-16) by simply reminding him about God's plan to build a house for him: "When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I [Yahweh] will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me: your throne shall stand firm forever."
Yahweh's relationship with David's family will last longer than any building constructed to honor God.
In a similar way, Paul ends his letter to the Romans (Rom 16:25-27) by reminding his readers that God is the one force in their lives who constantly "strengthens" them. It's through their imitation of Jesus' dying and rising - this "mystery kept secret for long ages" - that they're able to experience a strengthening God entering and working effectively in their daily lives.
That's why Luke makes a big thing about Jesus' conception. We should never overlook the messages those unique narratives convey.
We actually have three Gospel annunciations pertaining to Jesus. Sunday's Lucan annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38) is by far the best known, but we shouldn't overlook the other two: Matthew's chapter 1 annunciation to Joseph and Mark's baptismal annunciation to Jesus. In each passage, the evangelist is concerned with conveying one or more theological insights into Jesus' personality and ministry.
Luke accomplishes this in several ways. No one can overlook Gabriel's statement, "The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God." But even His future name, Jesus, is significant. It's easy to forget that the historical Mary never actually called her Son "Jesus." She never spoke Greek. She would have ued His original Hebrew name, "Joshua."
The "Jo" is an oft-used biblical abbreviation for Yahweh; "shua" means "saves." Whenever Mary called Jesus for supper, she was proclaiming her belief that Yahweh is constantly saving us - a very significant proclamation of faith when it's directed to this specific Joshua.
Even the first words of the angel's encounter with the virgin are theologically significant. Matthew employs the Greek word "kecharitomene" when he speaks about Mary - a word that modern English translations of the Bible, including the Catholic New American Bible, render as "highly-favored one." But because some of the first English translations of the Christian Scriptures came from the Latin Vulgate and not the original Greek, we're accustomed to hearing Mary referred to as "full of grace."
Without any reference to Mary's Immaculate Conception, Matthew just seems to be saying, "This is your lucky day, Mary!" This wonderful thing is happening in Mary's life not because of anything she did or anything that happened to her prior to this annunciation, but simply because God chose to make her an instrument of Yahweh's salvation.
Hearing these words, the evangelist's community would have reflected on how they, as other Christs, were also instruments in Yahweh's salvation. They hadn't forced God to include them in His plans. Their relationship with the risen Jesus was God's free gift. It wasn't given to them because of their looks, their spirituality or because they'd do a better job than anyone else of carrying on Jesus' ministry.