Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 20, 2020

First Reading 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8B-12, 14A, 16
Second Reading Romans 16:25-27
Gospel Luke 1:26-38

Artwork by Jasmine S. | Class of 2022

I often think of Mother Teresa’s comments on prayer. She said, “I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” She was spot on in sharing this, and also a bit countercultural. In a world where people still cling to the material transformations they think prayer brings – a cure to cancer, a safe flight, a peaceful family outing, less traffic – the saint’s observation runs the risk of sounding like a blunt dismissal of very real hopes and dreams. At best, Mother Teresa’s unabashed acknowledgement that prayer does not directly change things reminds us that prayer is not hokey or magical.

Rather, prayer changes things through human beings, God’s agents, whose attitudes and dispositions are brought to conversion, who attune themselves deliberately, and patiently, to hear better and better answers.

Once this conviction is reached, the person must proclaim what they know. People roundabout hear the better answer and act stunned, like they don’t know where it came from. Who, or what, is to account for such a change, such an inexplicable event? The answer is: people. Even with something seemingly inexplicable, it is people who help others to arrive at an understanding of the phenomenon that is just short of God, that is, to quote John Steinbeck in East of Eden, “good enough.”

Enter Nathan in the life of King David in the first reading. Nathan first humbly concedes to his king and employer that he should do whatever he has in mind regarding his hang-up of building a better dwelling place for the ark of God. He basically says, “Do your best and it’ll be just fine.” His reason? That “the Lord is with you.”

Stopping here, Nathan is in a state of becoming similar to the former person Mother Teresa recognizes she once was. He believes God will simply change things and that his involvement is not needed beyond some kind of abstract sincerity; Nathan cares about King David and seems to think that will be enough.

The Lord has other plans for Nathan, though. In the night, in prayer, the prophet receives vivid instructions for what to tell David next. He receives a better answer. And, more importantly, he communicates it. The answer is awe-inspiring and sweeping. He is the agent who brings God’s work to completion, which is why we call him “prophet.” Nathan knows what Mother Teresa came to know in the building effect of prayer, that God does not change things, that he changes things.

The result? David embraces God’s covenant with him and his lineage opening the door through time for the eventual birth of Christ. The reason it worked? A person, the prophet called Nathan.

By Luke Janicki
English Teacher