Just a word… Fourth Sunday of Advent

Just a word… Fourth Sunday of Advent… December 20, 2020

Has anyone ever seen the movie, “The Bishop’s Wife?” It is one of my favorite Christmas movies, for many reasons, not the least of which are the lessons it can teach us about what God might actually want from us. David Niven plays Henry, the bishop, Loretta Young plays Julia, his wife, and Cary Grant is Dudley, the angel who is sent as the answer to Henry’s prayer for help as he encounters difficulty in procuring funds for a new cathedral.

Although the story is part fantasy, it manages to engage the viewer in a very human story of transformation, on the earthly as well as on the spiritual plane.

Henry, the bishop, is consumed by the desire to build a magnificent cathedral, not unlike the temple David wants to build in our first reading. Both men are driven by a personal desire that fails to consider that it is the Lord who is the builder, and that God’s desire to be present to the human race is not limited to places of worship but includes the sacred space in every human heart. Both got it backwards, begging the question for whose glory is a magnificent building to be built? Both are made aware of their misguided dreams, one by the prophet Nathan, the other by an angel, Dudley.

Meanwhile another conversion is occurring in our bishop’s heart, as he comes to realize the value of his human relationships and his blessings from God. Henry’s heart opens, albeit reluctantly, to the reality of the considerable graces in his life. Henry’s reluctance stands in contrast to the attitude of the young girl in our Gospel, who without understanding what is about to happen to her by responding yes to the angel Gabriel’s shocking question, is nonetheless open to the workings of the Spirit of God. Mary offers herself as God desired, and remains no longer an unknown teenager in a small town, with no standing, but embraces her true identity as the Mother of God.

What can we learn from these characters? David (and Henry) teach us that if we want to find out what God expects from us we need to get out of the way and be open to ideas other than our own. Mary, in Luke’s Gospel, doesn’t immediately understand that she is playing an indispensible part in God’s plan to dwell in the human race, but she is open to God’s action, teaching us that we don’t have to know the whole plan, we just have to coop- erate with God, one step at a time.

With what remains of this pre-Christmas time, let us consider the age-old Advent questions: “Will you consent to bring my Son into the world? Will you continue to let me dwell among my people, to heal, comfort and bring hope through you?” Being able to hear these words requires a special kind of listening…we have to want it to happen because it will never be forced on us.

Let us go through the coming week, one step at a time, keeping our focus on today’s readings, and trying to find our true identity through their lessons. And, if you have the chance, watch “The Bishop’s Wife.” You might just find it to be a vehicle of joy, and even grace.

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