AND THE BLESSED VIRGIN’S CONSENT
(Part I of III)
An Advent Homily by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church
Who doubts that the praises we give to the Mother of God redound to the honour of the Son of God; and, in like manner, that in honouring the Son we are also honouring the Mother? For if, according to Solomon, “A wise son is the glory of the father” (Proverbs 10:1), how much more glorious is it to become the Mother of Wisdom Himself!
But how shall I dare to commend her whose praises are announced by Prophets, spoken by an angel, recorded by the Evangelist? I will not praise, because I do not dare; I will repeat with all devotion what the Holy Spirit Himself has spoken by the Evangelist, for the words of the text are: “And the Lord will give him the throne of David his father.” These are the words of the angel to the Virgin declaring that her promised Son should possess the kingdom of David. We all know that our Lord Jesus sprang from the race of David; but how, I ask, did God give Him the throne of His father David, since He never reigned in Jerusalem? On the contrary, when the multitude desired it, He would not consent to be their King, and before Pilate He protested that His kingdom was not of this world. Besides, what great gain was it for Him Who sits upon the Cherubim, and Whom the Prophet saw “upon a throne high and elevated” (Isaiah 6:1), to be promised the throne of His father David? But we know that another Jerusalem is signified by the Jerusalem that now is, one far nobler and richer than that in which David reigned. And I believe it to be here understood, because we often find in Scripture the figure put for that which is typified. Evidently God gave our Lord the throne of His father David when He “constituted Him King upon Sion [Zion], His holy mount” (Psalm 2:6). And the Prophet seems to show more plainly of what kingdom he spoke when he said not in Sion but upon Sion. David reigned in Sion. Upon Sion points out the kingdom of Him of Whom it is said to David, “Of the fruit of thy womb I will put to sit upon thy throne” (Psalm 132:11), and of whom another Prophet speaks, “He shall sit upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom” (Isaiah 9:6). In text we find upon. “The Lord God, therefore, will give him the throne of David his father”–not a typical but a true throne, not temporal but eternal, not earthly but celestial. And what has been said above shows that David so regarded it, for the throne in which he reigned as temporal sovereign bore the image of the eternal one.
“And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and his kingdom shall have no end” (Luke 1:33). Here also, if we understand the temporal house of Jacob, how can we say that Christ will reign eternally, since that house is not eternal? We have therefore yet to find the eternal house of Jacob in which He shall reign eternally, whose kingdom shall have no end. Question the Apostle, and he will point out to you the difference between him who is a Jew inwardly and him who is only outwardly a Jew; between the circumcision of the spirit and the circumcision which is only of the flesh (cf Colossians 2:11)–that is, between the spiritual and carnal Jew, the children of the faith of Abraham and the children according to the flesh. “For all are not Israelites that are of Israel. Neither are all they that are of the seed of Abraham, children” (Romans 9:6-7). In like manner we may look upon those alone who are found perfect in the faith of Jacob, or Israel, as constituting the spiritual and eternal house of Jacob in which the Lord Jesus shall reign eternally.
Who is there amongst us who, according to the interpretation of the name Jacob, makes Jesus Christ supplant the devil in his heart? Who is there that struggles with his vices and concupiscences that sin may not reign in his mortal body, but that in him Jesus may reign, now, indeed, by grace, afterwards eternally by glory? Blessed are they in whom Jesus shall reign eternally, for they also shall reign with Him, and of His kingdom there shall be no end. Oh, how glorious is that kingdom in which Kings have assembled, and have agreed together to praise and glorify Him Who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords; in the glorious contemplation of Whom the just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father! Oh, may our Lord Jesus deign to be mindful of me, a sinner, when He cometh in His kingdom. In that day when He shall give up His kingdom into the hands of God and the Father, may He graciously visit me in His saving mercy, may He look on me in goodness as one of His elect, may He rejoice me with the joy of His chosen people, and be praised even by me with all His inheritance! Come, Lord Jesus, take away scandals from Thy kingdom, which is my soul, and reign therein, Thou Who alone hast the right. For avarice comes to claim a throne within me; haughtiness and self-assertion would rule over me; pride would be my king; luxury says, “I will reign”; ambition, detraction, envy, and anger struggle within me for the mastery. I resist as far as I am able; I struggle according as help is given me; I call on my Lord Jesus; for His sake I defend myself, since I acknowledge myself as wholly His possession. He is my God; Him alone I cling to, Him I proclaim my Lord; I have no other King and disperse these enemies in Thy power, and Thou shall reign in me, for Thou Thyself art my King and my God, Who givest salvation to Thy chosen ones.
Editor’s Note: In Part II, the homily continues with St Bernard’s reflection on what Mary must have been thinking when the angel greeted her, telling her the Lord was with her and she would conceive.
Art: King David, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (il Guercino) c. 1768, Uploaded by Wmpearl, PD; Stained glass window at the Melkite Catholic Annunciation Cathedral in Roslindale [Boston, Massachusetts] depicting Christ the King with the regalia of a Byzantine emperor, John Stephen Dwyer, January 25, 2009, CC by SA; both Wikimedia Commons. Feature Image: Modified Adventkranz (liturgisch), Andrea Schaufler, 2 December 2006, CCA, Wikimedia Commons.