[“The Annunciation” by Fra Angelico]
Hanging in our parish office is a small plaque which reads, “We Plan, God Laughs.” Ain’t that the truth. We can be just so careful in planning out our life, yet in no time those plans can be completely changed. When I was teaching in college, for the section on developmental psychology, I had my students write a paper describing what their life would be like in 5 years, 10 years, 25 years, and 50 years. All of them saw themselves eventually getting married and having a family; that is all except one young woman. She was quite insistent that she would never get married or have children. Before the semester was over, she was pregnant with twins and engaged to be married. “We Plan, God Laughs.”
As we come to the last Sunday of Advent, we hear in today’s readings about plans – both human plans, and divine plans – and these plans reveals two great mysteries to us.
In our first reading, we hear about King David’s plans. He has, through the grace of God, secured his kingdom; “the Lord had given him rest from his enemies on every side.” Responding to a nobel inspiration of his heart, King David wants to do something to express his gratitude towards the Lord. He wants to build the Lord a house, a temple, that is worthy of God’s glory. “We Plan, God Laughs.” While David’s intentions are certainly the best, God reminds him that He does not need anything from us. The Lord reminds David that He does not dwell in a house made by human hands, but rather “I have been with you wherever you went….” God is always present among us. In fact, the Lord turns David’s plan on its head, and says instead that He is going to build a house for David; a kingdom that will last forever. God’s promise to David reveals the first great Mystery – that in a descendent of David, God will become Man; the Eternal Word will become Flesh and dwell among us.
In today’s Gospel reading we hear that God promise to David will be fulfilled in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Mystery of the Incarnation, God demonstrates that He loves us so much that He became one of us, so that He could save us from sin and the meaninglessness that sin brings, and show us the way to a meaningful life, now and forever.
Mary most likely had her own plans for her life. Some theologians think that she had planned to live a life of consecrated virginity for the Lord, and that is why she said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” Others argue, that the fact that she was betrothed to Joseph, shows that Mary planned to be a mother and wife, certainly faithful to the Covenant with God. I do not think we can be certain as to what Mary’s plan for her life was, but God certainly disrupted those plans. Instead of being either a virgin or a wife and mother, the Angel tells Mary that God plans for her to be both!
Today’s Gospel reading reveals the second great mystery, namely that God does not work out His plan of salvation all by Himself. Rather, He invites us to cooperate in His plan of salvation. Salvation is God’s business, but He has designed it to be a partnership; we have a role to play in it.
In today’s Gospel reading, Mary is invited to become the mother of God’s own Son, our Savior. In her freedom, Mary could have rejected this invitation. She could have said, “Thanks for the invitation, Lord, but what you’re asking is actually very inconvenient for me. I really wish I could do what you want, but I’m just not there yet.” This is basically the response Adam and Eve gave to God in the Garden. Thankfully, Mary gave a very different answer. She did not insult God by doubting His plan. Mary knew that God’s plan was the fullness of wisdom and wonderful. She knew that true joy and happiness lies in putting one’s life in the service of the Lord, thus she said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Her “yes” reversed Eve’s “no” and made room for Jesus to undo Adam’s fall.
“We Plan, God Laughs.” All of us can think of times when God has disrupted our plans. There are three ways in which God especially disrupts our plans. First, when we are really busy and we do not want any interruptions, God often brings us into contact with someone who needs our help. Second, we suddenly discover that certain popular and fashionable behaviors or activities (which we would like to follow) are actually against Church teaching, that they cause damage to us and to others. Third, when we are really tired, fed up, or angry, our conscience – like the angel Gabriel in today’s Gospel passage – sends us a message saying that we really need to keep working, or to do a little extra work, or to be extra patient with someone, or to hold our tongue.
These are the common ways in which God disrupts our personal plans, and invites us to cooperate in His plan of salvation. How do we respond? Do we tell God, like Eve, “thanks for the invitation, but its too inconvenient for me to do that”? Or to we respond like Mary, our Blessed Mother, who said “YES” to God? Mary’s “yes” lead her soul to “proclaim the greatness of the Lord,” and her spirit to “rejoice in God” her Savior.
In this final Sunday of Advent we are being invited to allow God to disrupt our plans, so that we will make room for Christ Jesus to dwell in our lives. Then we will forever sing the goodness of the Lord.