Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent

Today is both the 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve. This conflation brings certain people before us. They’re not Christ. They’re pointers to Christ. They sketch him. They draw the lines which tomorrow he will fill in with the colour of his presence.

The first names may surprise: Adam and Eve. But Christianity commemorates them the day before Christmas. Adam and Eve, the original humans, our first parents, God’s creation. Adam and Eve who scrambled the omelette, as it were, and were exiled from paradise. But not cast off. Jewish and Christian tradition has seen them as penitents, regretful, accepting of the consequences of their sin, and pardoned by God. They became people who waited, people of patience, expecting. They went into the shadow of death, but not without hope of the light. The medieval seal of Pluscarden Abbey shows Christ rising from the underworld, holding Adam by the hand, Adam holding Eve, leading them out of the dragon’s jaws. Adam and Eve are all of us, and the One who comes is the one who will pick up our whole humanity and lead it out of darkness and the shadow of death into the light. The One who comes comes for all of us, for humanity as such. St Luke’s genealogy of Jesus goes all the way back to Adam: Jesus is his descendant, his son. St Paul calls Christ the last Adam, the second Adam, the New Man, the Beginning, and the Fathers call Mary the new Eve. Christmas, then, is a new beginning, a second start. The Child and his mother launch a new humanity, a new people, a new family. And Christmas calls us in.

A second name for today is David: David, called by the Lord from following the sheep to lead the people of Israel. David, in today’s 1st reading, wants to build a house, a Temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. The Lord says ,’no, it’s not your call’, and playing on the word ‘house’ promises him a line, a dynasty, and more specifically one son who will govern in justice and peace. ‘I will be a father to him and he a son to me’. This is Solomon in the first place, but in time Someone ‘greater than Solomon’. And so the whole Jewish hope for the ideal king, anointed by God, the Messiah, is born. The recall of Adam and Eve suggests our human nature will come right, especially in its relationship with God. The recall of David suggests our social life will come right. ‘I will provide a place for my people…I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again, nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them…I will give them rest from all their enemies.’ This isn’t just a Jewish hope surely. And the angel says to Mary regarding her child ‘the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the house of Jacob for ever, and his reign will have no end’ – a pointer to the Resurrection, surely.

And so the portrait builds up: son of Adam, son of David.

The last figure, of course, is the Virgin Mary. She has gone with us all through Advent, and beyond. We have heard the Gospel of the Annunciation three times this Advent: on 8th December, 20th December and today. Mary is the new Eve whose obedience unties the knot tied by Eve’s disobedience. Mary’s simplicity untangles us. Mary is a daughter of Eve. She’s betrothed to a man of the house of David. She’s the mother of David’s promised son. St Bernard, commenting today’s Gospel, famously imagines all the holy forbears of Christ, waiting for her ‘yes’ to the angel and motherhood, begging her not to hold back. ‘Adam asks this of you, O loving Virgin, poor Adam exiled as he is from paradise with all his poor children. Abraham begs this of you, and David; all the holy ancestors are imploring this, your own as well dwelling in the valley of the shadow of death; the whole world is waiting for this, kneeling at your feet…And Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word”’. At the Annunciation Mary undoes the bolts, turns the key. The door swings open, and the King of glory enters – the child of a virgin.

Who is coming? This Sunday says: a new Adam, a new Beginning. This Sunday says: the longed for Son of David, champion of a new kind of coexistence, builder of a better ‘house’. This Sunday says: the child of a virgin daughter of Israel. And coming forth from her, conceived by the Holy Spirit, who is he? The Son of God himself: ‘God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God’. Someone, therefore, able to carry and cherish us all. Someone who can burn our sins to nothing. Someone who is Joy.

(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 24 December 2017)


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