Sunday, 18 December 2011

4th Sunday of Advent Year B

The 4th Sunday of Advent continues with a panoramic sweep of the salvation history but this time the spotlight will come to rest on Mary. It makes sense because the birth of a child is also a celebration of motherhood.
So the Gospel tells the story of how this motherhood is prepared. But, it is a preparation that goes further back than the Gospel. In the first reading, we hear of a settled and victorious King David who intended, in thanksgiving, to build a dwelling worthy to house the Ark of God’s covenant but only to be put in his place. God was gently reminding David that no man was ever going to build a house worthy of God. Instead, God reminded David of his humble beginnings and made a promise that He was going to make of the House of David one that endures forever and this came to fruition in one of his descendants: Mary.
The Lucan focus on Mary is based on a kind of typology of which anyone familiar with the Jewish or Hebrew Scriptures would not miss the connexion. To speak of an enduring dynasty is to speak of God’s desire to be close to His people in a special way. In the Old Testament, Moses was instructed by God to build a tabernacle in order to house the Ark of the Covenant. Within the Ark are found the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.
The completion of the Ark saw the cloud of glory covering the tent of meeting as the glory of God filled the tabernacle. The noun “cloud” and the verbs “to cover” or “to overshadow” are metaphors for the presence and glory of God. Here we find the link between the first reading and Mary. It is easy to miss the parallel between the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Ark and the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary, between the Ark of the Old Covenant as the dwelling place of God and Mary as the new dwelling place of God. David’s intent on building a house worthy for God is now reversed to God building a house worthy of Himself: in Mary.
Now we understand why Mary is called the Ark of God’s Covenant. She plays an immensely important role in the history of salvation. The Ark of the Old Covenant signified the spiritual presence of God but in Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, God comes to dwell with his people not only spiritually but physically. He takes residence in the womb of a specially prepared Jewish girl.
According to the Old Testament, only one item was placed inside the Ark: the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments whereas the author of the Letter to the Hebrew (9:4), revealed that two additional items were added in: the golden bowl holding the manna and the budding rod of Aaron. Here another parallel should not be missed. In the Ark, we find the law of God inscribed in stone; in Mary's womb we encounter the Word of God in flesh. In the Ark, the golden bowl is placed and it contained the manna, the bread from heaven that kept God's people alive in the wilderness; Mary's womb housed the Bread of Life come down from heaven that brings eternal life. In the Ark there is the budding rod of Aaron, the proof of true priesthood; Mary's womb bears the true priest. Thus, David’s wish for a worthy house of God is now come true.
Our Catholic veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, not just the Blessed Virgin Mary, is not a scriptural aberration because she is the living shrine of the Word of God. She is rightly the Ark of the New and Eternal Covenant. Our insistence with the virginity of Mary is not an indication of a Catholic puritanical obsession but instead, the ancient dogma of Mary’s virginity is really a statement about Jesus Christ and who He really is. The Ark which contains the Real Presence of God cannot be used for any other purpose, no matter how honourable.
Today, we are standing right at the front door of Christmas and before we enter, this Sunday is an invitation to pause a while, to ponder a little bit more on the motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is where we are involved. In an analogous manner, her motherhood is also ours. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the archetype of the Church now preparing for the birth of Christ. She bore the Son of God in her womb. We must bear the Son of God in our hearts. She is the Ark of the Covenant. We become the Temple of God’s Holy Spirit.