According to the Promise

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Text: The Magnificat


Our Lady of Guadalupe, Basilica of St. Mary
Minneapolis 2017

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who is and was and is to come. Amen.

Thus says the Lord to Abraham in Genesis 22:

I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.

The Blessed Virgin recalls this glorious promise as she sings:

[God] has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forever.

Again and again, God’s people have fallen into sin – and again and again and again God has remained merciful and steadfast. It began generations before Abraham, in the very beginning, when God crafted humanity from the dust of the earth, forming them in the divine image and breathing into them the spirit of life before placing our first parents in a garden, graciously providing for their every need. And after they fell, our Lord searched them out, crying, “Where are you?” Even as the Lord prepared to banish them from paradise, God crafted garments for them, clothing them in their nakedness.

The Lord showed mercy to a childless nomadic couple from Ur, promising them a great family and giving them new names and a land of promise. Even as Abram and Sarai erred again and again, the Lord remembered his promise.

When Abraham and Sarah’s grandson, Jacob, conned his brother out of his birthright and fled from his family, the Lord took pity on Jacob, giving him a new name – Israel, for Jacob wrestled with God. When Israel’s sons betrayed their favored brother, Joseph, and sold him into slavery, the Lord worked their cruelty for good, reconciling the brothers and delivering this family from famine, filling the hungry with good things.

When Pharaoh enslaved and murdered Israel’s descendants, the Lord showed the strength of his arm and scattered the proud in their conceit. God called Moses to lead them into safety, guiding the people by a pillar of cloud and fire, parting the sea and leading them into freedom across dry land.

When the Hebrews worshiped foreign gods in the desert and grumbled and wanted to return to Egypt and complained of the lack of food, God nourished them with water and manna and pheasants and still upheld his merciful goodness.

On the banks of the Jordan, the Lord again parted the water and ushed the people into the Land promised to Abraham’s heirs generations before.

Before the first kings of Israel were anointed, God promised a poor woman a child. Hannah sang out:

My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in my God.
…The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor….

The Lord called her son Samuel to speak, to be a prophet of the Lord. It was Samuel who anointed a lowly shepherd in Bethlehem as king, and to this king named David, the Lord made another promise: his heirs would reign forever.

And as foreign empires marched against Israel and threatened Jerusalem, God sent the prophet Micah to say,

…you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

To an elderly couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth, living in Roman Judea, the Lord promised a child named John, saying:

You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. …even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

And in the fulness of time, the angel Gabriel appeared to a young woman named Mary, saying:

Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Now, as we approach the feast of Christ’s Nativity, we hear of Mary’s visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth, and how John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth, leaps for joy in his mother’s womb, recognizing the unborn Christ.

This is the day when we begin our transition from Advent to Christmas, turning our attention to what will happen in Bethlehem on Friday night, in the ultimate fulfillment of the God’s words spoken through the prophet Micah. But we are not done with our expectation of Christ’s return just yet. Today, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, sings for joy, telling the glory of the One who Is and Was and Is to Come.

Her hymn recalls the glorious work that God has done through Israel and points us to the coming fulfillment of God’s promise – that Jesus is the Messiah, David’s greater Son, the child of Abraham who will bless the entire world. She recalls the glorious work that God has done to save Israel and all humanity throughout the course of history. She anticipates the glorious work that her Unborn Son will do on the Cross and the Empty Tomb, for he will be the First Born from among the Dead. And she points us to God’s ultimate fulfillment of that promise, when Christ returns in glory. On that blessed day, God will, in his mercy, scatter the proud, topple the mighty, lift up the lowly, fill the hungry and send the rich away empty. And all the world will be redeemed through the children of Israel.

God has been at work through all of history, from generation to generation, showing mercy, scattering the proud, casting down the mighty and lifting up the lowly, feeding the hungry and sending the rich away empty. Let our souls magnify the Lord! Christ came into the world as one lowly born and was lifted high upon his throne, the cross to fulfill the promise to Abraham, blessing all the world through his death and resurrection. Rejoice in God our savior! And on the last day, at the end of history, he will return in glory to fulfill all things.

Amen.

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