Friday December 24, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week of Advent
Reading (2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16) Gospel (St. Luke 1:67-79)
In the first reading today, we hear the promise God made to David that one of his sons would sit upon his throne forever and that his throne would remain firm before God forever. Now if we look at things from a perspective of history, we know that after fifty kings there no longer was a king in Israel; and for a couple of hundred years before Our Lord was born, there was not a king who was from the house of David. So it appears on the natural level that God’s promise was not fulfilled. The people of Israel who would be faithful to the Lord would have to continue to trust; they would have to continue to have faith that God’s promise is fulfilled even though it appears that it has not been – in fact, it appears that just the opposite has occurred.
Well, when we look at what Zechariah says at the time that his son is born (his son being, of course, Saint John the Baptist), he proclaims this canticle that we just heard in the Gospel and he talks about how God has raised up for us a mighty savior born of the house of His servant David. For the faithful Israelites, they did not know how God was going to fulfill this promise. They knew that He would. They knew that there was the promise of a Messiah. They knew He would fulfill the promises made to Abraham, and so we have that promise right in the canticle as well. This was the oath He swore to our father Abraham, he says. We hear about the promise to David, the promise to Abraham, the promise that God would raise up a Messiah after the house of David. It was to be understood in a spiritual way, not in a physical way, but that is not the way most people would think of it.
This is the way that God requires faith of us, because He will fulfill all of His promises and He will fulfill them perfectly. But He will not fulfill most of them, at least, in the way that on the natural level one would think they ought to be fulfilled. We would naturally look at something and say, “This is what He promised and this is what it means.” Well, that is not necessarily what it means, because we know when Our Lord was conceived that Our Lady was told by the angel that her Son would sit upon the throne of David forever and of His kingdom there would be no end. So the fulfillment of God’s promise was far greater than what anybody in ancient Israel could ever have imagined.
What we tend to do is to hold God to a very low standard. God, on the other hand, is trying to hold us to a much higher standard. We keep trying to bring God down to our level, and it is not ever going to work because the only way we are ever going to be able to go to heaven is if we go to God’s level. He has already done His part in coming to us. Now He has given us a share in His divine nature, so we have the capacity to go to Him, to rise up to a divine level. God is not going to ask small things of us, He is not going to ask that we would have just a little bit of faith in some natural-level promises, but rather what He is going to ask is that we would practice extraordinary faith in supernatural promises, in promises that are going to be fulfilled spiritually, in promises that when you look at the letter of the promise you are going to be able to say (as you chuckle to yourself), “He fulfilled it exactly the way that He said He was going to, but not in the way that I ever would have thought,” which is why when God makes certain promises we need to be very careful not to try to assume that we know what they mean because that is what is going to get us into trouble. What we need simply to do is have faith that since God is the One Who made the promise – and God is faithful – He will fulfill the promise, but not necessarily the way we think it ought to be fulfilled. The part that is so important is not to try to put our preconceived ideas onto God, but rather through prayer to allow God to show us what His intention is, what He meant when He made the various promises.
What He is going to require of us is exactly what He required of Israel, that we will walk in the darkness, that it will appear that God’s promises have not been fulfilled – in fact, it would appear that just the opposite has occurred – because then and only then are we operating solely by faith to be able to say, “I know what God promised and it looks like it has gone completely astray, but I believe that God is going to fulfill His promise in a way that I could never imagine. Who in ancient Israel would ever have imagined the way that God’s promise was fulfilled? Even though we know how the promise is fulfilled of the coming of the Messiah, of His being seated upon the throne of David, of the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham and so on, if we really stopped to pray about it, not just to say, “Oh yeah, I know what happened,” but to really, really pray about it, it would still boggle our minds, it would still be beyond what we could ever ask for or imagine, and it would still require absolute and total faith because there is no way you can ever prove that Jesus Christ is God. There is no way you can prove that Jesus is seated upon the throne of David forever. You cannot prove that Jesus is in heaven and seated at the right hand of His Father. These things still require faith. We know they are true. We cannot see them, we cannot prove them, and so it is still a walk in the darkness of faith that we believe because God has promised. And the Lord has made many promises, a number of which have not yet been fulfilled, but every last one of them will be. They will be fulfilled completely and perfectly, not according to our standards but according to God’s.
So we need to learn from this, as well as so many of the other promises that God fulfilled already, not to bring God down to our level, but to allow Him to raise us up to His level so we can understand His promises according to His terms and we will then be able in faith to accept them and to know that they will be fulfilled perfectly and completely.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.