4th Sunday of Advent Year C: 20th December 2015
“Pour forth we beseech You, O Lord, Your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ Your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Who lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen”.
These words of the final prayer of the Angelus punctuate our day, each day, three times a day, and today they open our Mass. Each day is a celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord, and of His Incarnation in our lives. The days of Advent are doubly celebrations of the Incarnation: in hope and longing, and in preparation for the presence of the mystery of God’s intervention at Christmas; which itself presages a day of God’s coming salvation that shall never end.
“Today is the day of salvation.” The book of God’s salvation, revealed in our individual lives, is between the bookends of two sleeps, two nights. Each day the liturgy takes us through this pilgrimage of salvation through the liturgy of the hours, interspersed with the spiritual refection of the Mass, our work, and the corporal refection of our shared meals. The Divine Office daily gives us a setting for our Eucharist, the fruit of the Church’s lectio. I mean in particular the Benedictus and the Magnificat. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has visited His people and come to their rescue” and the words “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my SAVIOUR”—these words encompass each day. At the heart of the Benedictus and the Magnificat is God’s merciful intervention.
“He has come to their rescue.... Thus He shows mercy to our ancestors... To give His people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins; this by the tender mercy of our God…. to guide our feet into the way of peace.” And: “His mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear Him… He has come to the help of Israel His servant, mindful of His mercy… according to the promise He made to our ancestors, of His mercy to Abraham and to His descendants for ever.”
Each morning and evening is enfolded in God’s Mercy, and Pope Francis has made this a Jubilee Year of Mercy. By it we pass from the exile and prison of our loneliness and alienation, to the broad plain of God’s presence, and to being in union with our brethren.
Our yearning to break out of the bonds of our isolation and allow God to pour into our lives is symbolised in these days before Christmas from the 17th onwards by the scriptural, sung figures the “O” antiphons, that punctuate each day before Christmas. Today’s Antiphon sings of the Key to the door of God’s mercy:
“O Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: come, and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.” What solace there is in this antiphon!
In the 8th century BC King Hezekiah saw troubled times. Sargon the Assyrian invaded. Sennnacherib invaded. You might know the poem of Byron: "The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, / And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold." They were saved by the Angel who smote the invaders with the plague, and slew 185,000 in the night. Hezekiah instituted a religious renewal, suppressing the idolatry and polytheism which had grown up over time. Hezekiah, a descendent of David foreshadows Christ Who is to come. Hezekiah cleansed the Temple. Hezekiah rose from a dire illness on the third day. Hezekiah gives the "key of David" to his steward Eliakim, all his authority, as an office to be handed on. The prophet Isaiah says: “And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open. Government shall be upon his shoulder.”
When the Lord speaks to Peter near the source of the Jordan, we read: “And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.”
David's key is again mentioned in Revelation: “And to the angel of the church of Philadelphia write: These things saith the Holy One and the true one, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth and no man shutteth, shutteth and no man openeth: I know thy works. Behold, I have given before thee a door opened, which no man can shut: because thou hast a little strength and hast kept my word and hast not denied my name.”
Peter has spoken: Pope Francis has spoken. He wields a key of Mercy, to loose us from an opaque world that denies the transparent reality of God’s transcendence. This is the only, the superabundant and all-sufficient key: the key which is God’s own reality, his love, and mercy.
“Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled!”
The Incarnation is come, the bells of the Angelus have rung!
Listen as we hear St Peter, Pope Francis describe how we must wield the key of God’s mercy, how we must set out as quickly as we can:
“It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy. Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in his preaching, so that we can know whether or not we are living as his disciples. Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.”
The door to God’s mercy swings on the hinges of the Sacraments of Confession and the Holy Eucharist as each day swings on the hinges of prayer. Inside the door, the fire of God’s Holy Spirit; and outside a world of turmoil waiting for us to wield the key of the works of mercy that bring us into His peace.
May we wield worthily. Amen.