Advent anticipation

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The Annunciation
The Annunciation. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On this past solemnity of All Saints, I became an aunt for the 16th time. The days and weeks before the baby’s birth were filled with excitement and anticipation. The older cousins argued whether their newest cousin would be a boy or a girl (the boys are sorely outnumbered 13 to 5). Her grandmother wondered if the baby would have her red hair. The whole family longed to see her face; to hold her, wondering at such a marvelous gift.

This Sunday’s readings are filled with the same familial longings. And our anticipation is only heightened by the fact that the 4th Sunday of Advent this year is Christmas Eve!

In the first reading from 2 Samuel, we hear King David feeling unsettled about settling into his palace: “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!” God responded to David’s worries by promising a “house” of a different kind:

“The LORD also reveals to you / that he will establish a house for you. / And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, / I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, / and I will make his kingdom firm. / I will be a father to him, / and he shall be a son to me.”

December 24 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

2 Sm 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16

Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29

Rom 16:25-27

Lk 1:26-38

Put differently, the very family of King David will be a “house” or a “dwelling place” for God. The son of whom God speaks here will be God’s new “tent.” As John the Evangelist will describe this son’s birth to us: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).

God’s desire to dwell among us

God did not desire a palace built by human hands. Rather, God desired to dwell among us! He desired to take the human family as his own family, to have a mother, and so to have flesh-and-blood brothers and sisters in each of us.

The Gospel reading for this Sunday remembers the Annunciation. In his book “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives” (Ignatius Press, $20), Pope Benedict XVI surmises that Mary herself must have told the story of the Annunciation to Luke. How else, wonders Pope Benedict, could Luke have known the details of such intimate, hidden events; events Mary alone had experienced? Thus, in our hearing of the story of Mary’s mothering of God at the Annunciation, we are told a “family story” — a story from the intimate memory of a mother about her child. Luke’s account of the Annunciation is the memory of God’s Mother … about our Brother!

The Annunciation is also the fulfillment of God’s promise to King David long ago. This baby’s birth was anticipated by his family not just for weeks or months, but hundreds of years!

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, / and you shall name him Jesus. / He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, / and 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.”

Finally, the son announced in 2 Samuel would be received by his mother, swaddled and laid in a manger. As we also learn from Luke, this baby’s cousins did not wonder if the new baby would be a boy or a girl. His name was even known. All that remained was to wait for the day of his birth, to see his face, and to gaze in wonder at such a gift!

We, too, now have but one day to wait — to long for the good news of this marvelous baby’s birth, to see his face and to hold our God-become-Brother close in our wondering hearts.

Catherine Cavadini

Catherine Cavadini, Ph.D., is the assistant chair of the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Theology and director of its master’s program in theology.