The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Advent IV – Christmas Sunday – 18 December 2011
II Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16: 25-27, Luke 1:26-38
From the 2nd Book of the Prophet, Samuel:
King David said to the Prophet, Nathan, See now, I dwell in a house of cedar but the ark of God dwells in a tent. And God says to the King, through Nathan, Would you build me a house to dwell in?
From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
In closing this most eloquent epistle, the apostle wrote, Jesus Christ…the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed….
And from the Gospel According to St. Luke:
After the Archangel Gabriel told Mary that she will miraculously conceive the Son of God in her virginity, she responded saying, Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.
Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,
The 4th Sunday in Advent had often been called Mary Sunday in that historically the scripture lessons designated for this day concern themselves with the Mother of our Lord. Although Protestants have, I believe, properly criticized the Roman Church for an overemphasis on the Virgin Mary, we most certainly have taken the opposite and extreme position. Protestants have not thrown out the baby with the bath water but have virtually thrown out the mother with the baby’s bath water. We did however; keep the baby to our credit. But His mother is important as well.
We should pay more attention to the one person in all of human history to whom God had paid the most particular and special attention. He chose this very young woman, identified in Scripture as a virgin full of grace, to become the mother of His child.
Being so uniquely close to God, many believers see her as one to whom they can and / or should pray. Again, for many Protestants, this is problematic since we proclaim direct access to God the Father through God the Son. No other intermediary is either necessary or desirable.
Yet most Christians around the world, being either Roman Catholic or some type of Orthodox, do pray to her – or through her. In the prayer called The Hail Mary, based on Gabriel’s annunciation to her that she would conceive the Son of God, the devoted speak of Mary as the Mother of God – a bit misleading since God has no mother, but nonetheless the incarnation of God does have a mother. She is thus the Mother of the Incarnate God. And as such deserves, again as Scripture states, special love and veneration. We should call her blessed.
For many of us such veneration does not mean prayer but does mean love. And that’s a good thing. If more of us saw her as the example of faithfulness, goodness and grace that she is, I think we would have avoided the distortions of the current secularist and often atheist movement – hugely destructive. Mary serves as the supreme example for the human response to God’s saving power. She not only shows us what it means to be a woman, she also exemplifies what it means to be both human and faithful.
When she conceives Jesus, she becomes the ark of the New Covenant. But we’re a bit ahead of ourselves. We need some background on the ark of the Old Covenant.
The ark of the Covenant became well known in the popular culture with the release in 1981 of the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark – a great film starring Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, the handsome archeologist commissioned to find the lost ark of the Covenant before Hitler’s Nazi investigators find it. They’re searching for it since it was believed to hold astounding miraculous powers. (So the story for the movie goes. We have no hard evidence that the Nazis had ever seriously searched for the lost ark.)
In the Bible, the ark did in fact hold astounding powers. When King David attempted to bring the ark into the city of Jerusalem for the first time, the ark began to slip. A man named Uzza caught it to set it upright. Upon his touch, though, he dropped dead. Because of its astounding power, only certain of the priests could come near to it and only the high priest could actually touch it. One had to be especially holy to do so.
David loved God and venerated the ark. It contained the stone tablets given to Moses engraved with the Ten Commandments, a golden bowl of manna collected during the wilderness wanderings of the Hebrew people after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and before they settled in the Promised Land -and also contained Aaron’s rod – the rod that belonged to Moses’ brother, Aaron the priest, which miraculously budded with almond flowers and bore ripe almonds.
The ark thus held three miraculous objects – the Ten Commandments miraculously revealed to Moses and engraved in stone, the miraculous food that God supplied to His chosen people in the wilderness and Aaron’s miraculously budding rod. That rod, as in thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me – one of the shepherd’s instruments for guiding and herding his sheep – Aaron’s rod indicated his authority over all the other leaders of the Hebrew tribes to serve as the high priest. All the tribal leaders had rods – only Aaron’s budded indicating the miraculous power of life inherent in his priestly authority.
That symbolism carried on through the centuries. Today, bishops use a shepherd’s rod and or staff as a sign of their priestly authority.
The Old Covenant between God and man had been the Covenant of the Law – divinely revealed and given as part of God’s promise to make of His people a great nation possessing a rich and fertile land abundant with life in every form. Biblical history testifies that God kept His part of the covenant but the people did not. The punishment for breaking the covenant would be death. But that’s not what God did.
Just the opposite. For although the people – and that means all the people who believe in and lay claim to the One True God – or better expressed, the people to whom God lays claim as His own – all of us deserved and deserve the punishment to the extent that we broke the law of life.
But as I just indicated, God does the opposite. For instead of the death penalty, He gives us the eternal life reward- totally undeserved but perfectly given because God loves us as He loved Mary. Like the mother of the incarnation, God loves all of us – so much so that He takes our place on the gallows of judgment and dies for us – that in His death He pays the price for our sins and we can live forever in the perfection of that same divine self-sacrificing love.
This is the great mystery of which St. Paul so eloquently speaks. It the mystery of salvation and of a quality of holy love that cannot be explained but can only be received. Jesus Christ, the Son of God – who is also Mary’s son, is the living revelation of the mystery of the ages kept secret until His crucifixion and resurrection – the revelation for which He was born to Mary and given to us.
Hence, as Mary consents to miraculously conceive the Son of God, she becomes the ark of the New Covenant as she carries that child. And as we receive the saving power of Jesus Christ within our hearts, minds, bodies and souls, so we too become a true ark of the New Covenant of our salvation. Alive in us, we become alive in Him – forever. That’s the mystery – that’s the miracle.
God commissioned King David’s son, Solomon, to build Him a house – the glorious Temple in the holy city of Jerusalem. In
that magnificent building, the ark of the Covenant was house in the most holy place called the Holy of Holies.
But on 586 B.C., the Babylonians conquered the people, ravaged the Temple and off carried the ark to Babylon never to be seen again; hence, so many searches for the lost ark over the centuries.
But we need not search for the lost ark. We, and all who believe, become a living ark of the New Covenant. And the Temple has become, not a building in Jerusalem, but the resurrected Christ who dwells in us. St. Paul speaks of the true believer’s body as a temple of the Lord. And it is – and so we are. We are the true ark and the true temple in Jesus Christ.
God has established this. The only role we play is that we, like Mary, must give our consent. She said, Be it unto me according to thy word. And we must say the same.
With our consent, we come alive in Him as He comes alive in us. And in this New Covenant of God’s self-sacrificing love, we live forever. Simple as that.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, grant to us the grace to give our full faith. Remove any conditions that we place on our love and devotion to you. Make of us living arks and true temples that we may so worship and serve you that we can honor and glorify your Holy Name both now and forever. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,
born of Mary,
in whom we can live forever.