I love a good mystery. Emphasis on good. I don’t like mysteries that suck.
I love a good conspiracy theory as well. I mean, don’t you? There’s always some nefarious group of rich elites trying to control and take over the world. I mean, if we’re being honest and paying attention to human history, this has always been true. There have always been those who crave, above all, power and control and wealth.
When we see things in Holy Scripture that refers to mystery, however, we must not be confused. Once again, if we are a student of history in the Church, we know that this issue of secret “mysteries” has been a problem since very early on. In fact, it was one of the earliest heresies and is still very much alive today. This old heresy is called Gnosticism. Some of the basic tenets of the gnostic heresy was that there was some sort of secret knowledge out there that had to be found out, that human souls are divine beings trapped in bodies and that Jesus was sent by the “supreme being” to bring gnosis (knowledge) to the earth.
As weird as that may sound, I assure you that the workings of this heresy are still very much at play in our modern world and even in the Church.
See what I mean about mystery? To the Gnostics, there is a mysterious knowledge out there that we need to find, the “supreme being” that sent Jesus to give us this knowledge.
And that brings us to our readings for this week. I was struck, as I began to read through these, by St. Paul’s words in the Epistle of Romans for this week,
“Now to him that is able to establish you, according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret from eternity…”
St. Paul says there is a mystery which has been kept secret from eternity. But then he goes on, in the next breath, to tell his readers that this mystery kept secret from eternity has been made manifest. Some mystery. He further tells us how the mystery has been made manifest; “by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the precept of the eternal God, for the obedience of faith, known among all nations;”
So, this mystery, St. Paul tells us, is known through Holy Scripture and known among all nations. Doesn’t sound like much of a mystery. And that, of course, is the point. What was once whispered and foreshadowed in the Old Covenant by the prophets and writings has now been made known. How does that relate to our other readings and thus to Advent, our current liturgical season?
Look at our Old Testament text, 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16. King David wants to build a “house” for God. A temple is what the king wants to build…and for the right reasons, I might add. David wants to honor God. But God says no. But He doesn’t just say no. Look at the text. He reminds David of who he is and who it is who has given David all he has. God reminds David that He brought him out from nothing. He was a poor peasant shepherd boy, chosen by God to lead His people. This was all God’s doing. We see repeatedly God saying to David, “I have made thee…I will appoint…I will plant…I will give thee” and, most importantly, in verses 12, 14 and 16,
“And when thy days shall be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will raise up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom…I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son…And thy house shall be faithful, and thy kingdom forever before thy face, and thy throne shall be firm forever.”
This, for a time, was a great mystery. David’s sons were abject failures as kings and leaders. Was God wrong? No, of course not. This is the mystery that will be revealed.
The Psalmist echoes the 2 Samuel text, reiterating the mercy of God who has done these wonderful things. He has promised a permanent covenant in the person of a son, one who would be forever faithful. The mystery continues to be revealed.
Our gospel text finally draws back the final curtain. One of the most incredible things, I think, about this text, what we call “The Annunciation,” is the reaction and response of the Blessed Virgin. I mean, put yourself in her place for a minute. If an angel appeared to you, as a 13-14-year-old girl, calling you “full of grace” and saying, “the Lord is with thee; blessed art though among women,” what would you say? I’d be freaking out but not the Blessed Virgin. She says, “be it done to me according to thy word.”
The angel has just told Mary the mystery kept secret from eternity. And it was not through some merit of her own. No, it was a gift entirely of God’s grace.
But now the curtain is pulled back. God lets the Blessed Virgin (and us) see behind the curtain of the plan, the mystery kept secret from eternity. From before the moment that Adam and Eve chose themselves rather than God, from all eternity, there was a plan. There was a plan to redeem mankind, but not through their own merits. The merits of the peasant shepherd boy and the peasant unmarried virgin are not the point here.
The point is the revealing of the mystery.
The point is the Son, the One who would be born of a Virgin.
The One who would be great.
The One who would be called the Son of the Most High.
The One who would sit eternally on the throne of His “father” David.
The One whose kingdom shall have no end.
The mystery has been revealed.
Behold the Son!