20/December/2009 Filed in: Jottings
(For information about this O antiphon, text, music and recording, please see our liturgy page
This is the day on which, throughout the Benedictine world, a sermon or talk known as the Missus Est
is traditionally given to the community, in keeping with the gospel for 20 December, Luke 1. 26-38. It is not difficult to link the Annunciation with the antiphon O Clavis David
, but the readings of the Fourth Sunday of Advent take precedence over the ferial ones; so instead of the Annunciation, we are invited to reflect on the Visitation, Luke 1. 39-45, together with Micah 5. 1-4, Hebrews 10. 5-10, and verses from psalm 80.
Unusually, all three Mass readings focus attention on the body of the one we are awaiting. There is the mysterious prophecy in Micah of "the time when she is to give birth gives birth"; in Hebrews there are references to the "body you prepared for me" and "the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all"; and the gospel has Elizabeth's lyrical outburst, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" while the unborn John the Baptist senses the nearness of his God and dances for joy in his mother's womb.
This concentration on the sheer physicality of birth and the "bodyliness" of the Lord Jesus should make us think. We do not worship a God who is somehow "out there", remote, uninterested, uninvolved. On the contrary, we worship a God who, in Christ Jesus, has experienced what it is to be human, who has promised to be with us always, to the end of time. As Christopher Smart said so well, he is "a native/Of the world he made." He is also, as Isaiah prophesied, the Key of David, the Sceptre of the house of Israel, to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been committed; but unlike many politicians who strut about the world's stage, sometimes leaving things a little better but often much worse, not culpably or intentionally but because their interests are limited to their own time or their own country (think Copenhagen), Jesus' ambition, so to say, is cosmic. There is nothing and no-one beyond the scope of his love and mercy. He wants to free us from the prisons we have made for ourselves, the grubby little sins and shabby half-truths that prevent our becoming what he desires us to be. Tragically, we often prefer a half-life in chains to living fully the glorious freedom of the children of God. If we could only believe how much he loves us, we could pray with perfect confidence "come and free from prison one who sits in darkness and the shadow of death."