Fourth Sunday of Advent
I know these days during the pandemic, many of us are tired of being in our houses. Yet this reality of sheltering in a safe place speaks to the power of the personal domicile. A house, a home, is a powerful thing. Even if you are a world traveler and revel in seeing new places, let me ask you this: How good does it feel to come home? No wonder King David recognizes the goodness of rest from his enemies in a cozy palace, even as he feels guilty not giving a dignified dwelling to the Lord’s ark.
There is a beautiful wordplay that God uses in reply to David: rather than the king making a house of cedar, the Lord will establish a royal house of descendants. Note that in a short generation, the Israelite tribes will split, with the Northern Kingdom going through a dozen or so different dynasties, but Judah remained the Davidic House. Even when it was cut off, Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would shoot from the stump of David’s father Jesse (cf. Isa. 11:1).
All of this is a backdrop for the Annunciation of the Incarnation from Gabriel to Mary. She is from Judah, from the house of David. And quite possibly the Annunciation itself likely happened in a…in a house! Many Renaissance paintings either place the Blessed Virgin in a church or a home. Sometimes Mary is depicted startled, as Luke seems to suggest. Robert Campin’s Mérode Altarpiece shows her engrossed in her prayer book (probably like one the owner of the painting may have had) barely noticing the angel’s entry. The comfortable Flemish merchant’s house is full of these weighty details. However, it’s perhaps the next panel over that is more interesting.
In the adjacent panel St. Joseph is in his workshop. The righteous carpenter is making mousetraps. The traps are ingeniously clever guillotine-type boxes. It is the kind of everyday scene Flemish painters liked to portray. Nonetheless, longstanding theological reflection compared the devil to the pesky mouse, that creature always sneaking in and causing havoc for humanity. In this analogy, the Second Person of the Trinity that takes on weak human nature was the bait in the mousetrap that snapped the devil-mouse’s neck!
From this perspective, the poor and meek girl of Nazareth, Mary, becomes the perfect home for the Savior. She is also the camouflaged mousetrap – the only proper home for the rascal! – enclosing the bait that will put the great enemy of mankind to death. As the devil entrapped us, so now mother and child trap him. The eternal reign of Jesus, David’s son, creates a house that gives Christians rest from the ancient enemies of death and sin. Just as God told Samuel not to judge by outward appearances because God sees what lies within and chooses the youth David; just as that same boy defeats the giant Goliath; so too the Virgin and the infant in her womb challenge us to fear neither visible nor invisible threats. Why? Because God established an eternal Kingdom – a House – for His Son and through baptism has made us coheirs in it.
Reflection Question: All of the everyday objects in the Virgin Mary’s house in the Mérode Altarpiece were symbols to the people who prayed with it in the fifteenth-century. The symbols encouraged devotees to meditate on sacred mysteries throughout the day. How could ordinary objects of your home inspire prayer for you?
Reflection by Fr. Pachomius Meade, OSB
 Workshop of Robert Campin, Annunciation Triptych (Mérode Altarpiece) (c. 1427-32) oil on panels (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art) https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/470304.