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Monday 21 December 2020

Be it done unto me according to Thy Word

We are sorry for the poor quality of the sound for yesterday's Sunday Mass. We will endeavour to solve the problem. Please remember that the filming is carried out by volunteers.

Meanwhile, for those who regretted being unable to hear the sermon, it is reproduced below:



The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.


When the people of Israel carried the ark of the covenant through the desert, they used a tent for the glory of God to live in. One of the boasts of Israel was that no other nation had its gods so near as the Lord was to His people. He made His tabernacle among them. This is one reason why we put a veil over the tabernacle today – to make it look like a tent, the place where the Lord has fixed His dwelling. But the obvious feature of a tent is that it is not a fixed abode, it is a temporary home. This is why David is uneasy that once the ark has been settled in Jerusalem, it is still kept as though it might up sticks and head off somewhere else. Without the glory of God among them, Israel would be nothing. Quite apart from wanting to give the ark of God a more fitting and dignified home, David wants security – the security that God is on his side and is staying there.

God’s reply, through the prophet Nathan, is that David has not deserved this abiding presence of the Lord. His sins have delayed God’s homecoming and it will be David’s son, Solomon, who will be entrusted with the building of the Temple. But the Lord does make a new covenant with David, that his House and sovereignty will stand secure and be established for ever. David becomes the most important precursor of the Messiah. David the shepherd boy, whom the Lord took from following the sheep, will be the ancestor of the Good Shepherd Himself. From David, who was anointed by Samuel, will spring forth the one who is anointed by the Holy Spirit. From the dynasty of David the King will come the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

In the last seven days of Advent, the Church sings the seven ‘O’ Antiphons at Vespers. Each one is addressed to Christ and so begins, ‘O Wisdom’, ‘O Rising Sun’ or ‘O Emmanuel’. (Perhaps in Yorkshire they ought to become the ‘Ee’ antiphons?) Three of these prayers relate Christ to David – ‘O Root of Jesse’ because Jesse was the father of King David. ‘O Key of David’ - today’s antiphon - because David’s son can open the door to lead the captive from prison, and then, ‘O Rex’. ‘O King whom all the peoples desire, You are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save Your people whom You made from clay.’ Christ is the King whose kingdom is not of this world, who need have no fear of His enemies. We might expect Him then to be born a palace infinitely greater than that of David in Jerusalem. Certainly, that is what Herod and the Wise Men thought. But this King is born in the city of King David, yes, but not in a palace but in a stable. It seems that the Lord wishes to emphasize that His Son is to have a home not built by human hands. That home, the royal throne where the Son of David fixes His dwelling is the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

When we look at Our Lord’s family tree, we see that He is related to human beings who have performed every kind of wickedness imaginable. There is Cain who killed his brother Abel and Jacob who was cunning and deceitful and Tamar, who seduced her own father-in-law, and Rahab the harlot, and David who had Uriah the Hittite killed, and Solomon who turned after false gods – you name it and someone in our Lord’s family did it. All human wickedness may be found among His forbears. Some of them were better than others of course – like Noah or Josiah, but all of them have their faults, until we get to Mary, who is conceived free from sin. We can imagine God saying to each person along the line, “Are you the man to build Me a house to live in? No, you are not worthy to give My Son a home”. God Himself will make the home where He will live. But Mary and Jesus are connected to these people, and so they are connected to us. All the other ancestors of the Lord resisted the purposes of God, and put Him off, as we do. Who knows, if David had been all he was meant to be, perhaps the Messiah would have come in his day and there would have been no need for a temple. Instead, it was not for another one thousand years after David was anointed King that the angel came to tell Our Lady that she would give birth to the King whom all the peoples desire.

St Bernard, in a beautiful passage found in today’s Office of Readings, imagines all the angels of heaven listening behind Gabriel, on tenterhooks to hear Mary’s answer: “Open, O Blessed Virgin, your heart to faith; open your lips to speak; open your bosom to your Maker. Behold! The Desired of all nations is outside, knocking at your door. Oh! If by your delay He should pass by, and again in your sorrow you should have to begin to seek for Him whom your soul loves! Arise, then, run and open. Arise by faith, run by the devotion of your heart, open by your word. ‘And Mary said; Behold the handmaid of the Lord: let it be done to me according to your word.’” Our Lady was able, because God Himself had prepared her free from sin, to answer without reserve, to put her faith entirely in the angel’s message, to respond in love to God with a pure heart. Where all who came before her excluded God, Mary made a home for Him, and so He was able to dwell with her as He could with no other. In this she is a model for us, of how we should open our hearts to Christ, but she is also at that moment of the Annunciation the representative of all mankind. She has in her lineage examples of all of human history, and it is this history that her Son comes to redeem. Mary consented to the Lord on our behalf, and so He was able to fulfil in her all the promises He had made to David – “I will establish your dynasty for ever and set up your throne through all ages.” Mary becomes the new ark of the covenant and in doing so she makes a new beginning for us all. This year we have all sorts of challenges as we celebrate this coming season. Perhaps, like the Holy Family we will not be where we hoped to be, or with the people we hoped to be with. However, we do not need a house of cedar to welcome our Lord this Christmas, we only need to say with Our Lady, “Be it done unto me according to Your word.”