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December 21, 2015

The birth of Jesus will usher in a kingdom that has no end, the angel Gabriel told Mary at the annunciation.

More fully, the angel said, "The Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1.32-33).

This is perhaps difficult for us to comprehend, accustomed as we are to constant change. Politicians are often seen to be at the end of their useful life if they have been in power for 10 years. Changes in digital technology are so rapid that our electronic devices are considered obsolete shortly after they roll off the assembly line.

In that light, the thought of a kingdom without end is likely seen as the ultimate in boredom. Wouldn't one go stark raving mad living in a kingdom without end? Wouldn't it be too much like the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day where the same day repeats itself over and over?

Yet Gabriel's promise is clear. It also repeats God's promise in Psalm 89: "I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: 'I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations'" (89.3-4).

Just as the angel Gabriel urged Mary to rejoice at the Annunciation, so joy is one of the Spirit's gifts for those living in God's kingdom.

Just as the angel Gabriel urged Mary to rejoice at the Annunciation, so joy is one of the Spirit's gifts for those living in God's kingdom.

The miracle of this everlasting kingdom, however, is not that our changing world gets frozen into immobility. Rather, it is that the eternal God - one too often conceived of as unapproachable and beyond all knowing - enters into our ever-changing world and divinizes it.

We do not know exactly what divinization means, but it is surely different than our entering into a frozen world where people are bereft of imagination.

JOY OF THE KINGDOM

The angel's greeting to Mary might provide a hint. The New Revised Standard Version translates that greeting mundanely as "Greetings, favoured one" (1.28). Pope Benedict XVI went back to the original Greek where the greeting was "chaire." The "true meaning" of chaire, he says, is rejoice, quite different than the Hebrew greeting one would expect - shalom, peace be with you.

Indeed, joy appears to be a quality of this everlasting kingdom. When Mary visits Elizabeth, she proclaims, "My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour" (1.47). The angel who appears to the shepherds after Jesus' birth tells them, "I am bringing you news of great joy for all the people" (2.10).

Much later, at the Last Supper, Jesus consoles the apostles after telling them he is going away: "You have pain now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you" (John 16.22).

Young children are often full of delight when they open their gifts on Christmas morning. The mystery of what is in all those wrapped boxes is finally revealed. But an emotional letdown can occur once the presents are all exposed. Once I saw a young girl, not my daughter, inundated with gifts, open one and complain, "I already have that Barbie."

Sometimes, people may try to provide joy to their loved ones by overwhelming them with the passing things of this world. Instead of joy, however, such a potlatch may simply breed weariness and desolation.

It is in the everlasting kingdom that joy can be found.

FULL OF GRATITUDE

One of St. Ignatius of Loyola's key insights was to realize that when he thought about worldly pleasures, he was left with dark feelings of depression, but when he reflected on the things of God, he felt uplifted and full of gratitude.

Out of that realization he understood that what he wanted was not pleasure, but a relationship with the Eternal One.

Mary had the same understanding. She was a woman of joy because, even before Jesus was born, she was living in his endless kingdom. She rejoiced in God our Saviour.

A final word of advice comes from St. Paul who, while stuck in prison, wrote, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice" (Philippians 4.4).

Circumstances did not matter to Paul; the Holy Spirit gave him the gift of joy even in the direst situation. Paul advised his readers not to worry, but to thank God and make one's requests to him in prayer. Spend time reflecting on things that are honourable, pure and worthy of praise.

"Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me; and the God of peace will be with you" (4.8).

The same could be said about Mary. Do what you see in her life. Then, God's eternal kingdom will not be everlasting boredom, but rather joy without end. The passing things of this world provide no satisfaction; that which lasts forever will bring lasting happiness.