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Fourth Sunday of Advent: In the depths of the human heart

Today’s readings: 2 Samuel 7, 1-5. 8-12. 14.16; Romans 16, 25-27; Luke 1, 26-38.

On this Christmas, as it transpires from today’s Scriptures, it is Mary’s obedience of faith that we celebrate as a catalyst of change in the entire history of mankind. Her consent to Gabriel’s message was determining. Her ‘obedience of faith’, which St Paul emphasises in the second reading from Romans, was not a simplistic obedience but one entangled in turmoil and fear, eminent human emotions that so often surface in our dealings with God.

Faith can triumph over doubt but it does not eliminate it. Faith can respond to questions but it never ceases to pose them in the first place. With science and rationality competing at times arrogantly with belief, the story of a pregnant girl generating a child hailed as Son of the Most High sounds too naive a narrative in the im­mense, infinite history of the evolving universe.

The Gospel, for those who believe, remains first and foremost a proclamation, not a history book simply telling us what factually happened on that holy night in Bethlehem in a far and remote corner of the immense universe. This should make us think how wisely, critically and profoundly to relate with this Christmas story.

With the birth of Jesus, God subjected Himself to time and space, to a history that unfolds gradually. He subjected Himself even to huma­nity at large, giving us all the freedom and the possibility to open up to Him as well as well as to resist Him. St Paul, in his letter to Romans, today goes to the core of what we stand for in the world as believers, namely, that what was veiled as mystery for endless ages, “is now so clear that it must be broadcast to pagans everywhere to bring them to the obedience of faith”. In a nutshell, this is our message and our mandate: to gently bring people to see and believe.

This mandate is challenging not only today in the secularised culture we live in. It has always been like that. The biblical narrative is peppered from beginning to end with the difficulties and complexities that may bring to whoever seriously engages in life and belief. King David himself, as we read from the second book of Samuel, got it all wrong when he thought that as leader of the people his daunting task was to build a dwelling more becoming to his God.

Through the prophet Nathan, God stopped him from doing what he had planned and made him realise that God dwells in the space of our personal interiority. “I will make you a house,” says the Lord to he who believed that God’s transcendence demand­ed much more than just a tent where the ark of God was kept. Again much later, it was in the space of Mary’s personal interiority that God entered history, assumed a human face and became accessible to all and everyone in the depths of the human heart.

St Paul specifically speaks of the mandate to bring ‘pagans’ to the obedience of faith. ‘Pagans’ here need not be interpreted with heavy negative connotations. Even church-goers can be pagans. Confronted with God’s word, pagans are those warped in their own selves, egos inflated to the point of believing themselves self-sufficient. Athanasius, the 4th-century Church Father, from such a distant age and context, speaks loudly about this when he writes: “You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself”.

The farther we stray from God, the harsher life becomes. The closer we stay with God, the warmer we become towards each other. The harder we find it to perceive Him in the other, the more difficult it becomes for us to kneel down in His presence, which gradually with time, simply becomes an absence.

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