December 22, 2019 Fourth Sunday of Advent

This 4th Sunday of Advent is symbolic.  Today’s liturgy looks toward the coming of Christ at Christmas.    We see the fulfillment of God’s unfolding plan of redemption in the events leading up to the Incarnation, the birth of the Messiah King.  Today we celebrate the new era of salvation which begins with the miraculous conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary.  And this evening we celebrate the birth of Jesus!  Where did those nine months go?   We could and will say that this is not your normal pregnancy!


The proclamation of the readings should fill you with joy and hope!   When the Lord comes to redeem his people, he fills us with his Holy Spirit, the source of our joy and hope in the promises of God.  In the first reading from Samuel, we are made aware that King David was an ancestor of Jesus and that his kingdom would reign forever.  David was the hope of the people of Israel.  God made a covenant with David as King over Is  rael.  He made a promise to David and to his descendants that David’s dynasty would endure forever through the coming of the Messiah King (2 Samuel 7:16).  This King would establish an everlasting kingdom of peace and security for his people.  We often think of peace as the absence of trouble.  The peace which the Messiah brings cancels the debt of sin and restores our broken relationship with God our heavenly Father.


Today, the Gospel sounds almost like a fairy tale.  St. Luke tells us the greatest story of all times.  He presents to us, not a yarn out of his imagination, but a story woven by the very hand of God himself with human collaboration.  This message tells us that Christmas time is near.  Mary will open the door for us through her collaboration with the Work of God.  This humble girl from Nazareth is astonished at the Angel’s announcement.  She was precisely praying God to send the Anointed One, to save the world.  In her modest dreams, little did she think that God would just choose her to carry out His plans.  The climax is reached when the Angel says: “You shall conceive and bear a son and you shall call him Jesus”. (Lk 1:31).


How does Mary respond to the word of God delivered by the angel Gabriel?  “God waited while Mary deliberated.  The history of the world hung in the balance as a young girl considered the options before her.”  God’s gracious presence is invitational and persuasive, never coercive.  Mary knows she is hearing something beyond human capability.  It will take a miracle which surpasses all that God has done previously.  Her question, “how shall this be, since I have no husband” is not prompted by doubt or skepticism, but by wonderment!  She is a true hearer of the Word and she immediately responds with faith and trust.


In her Heart, Mary experiences some tense and dramatic moments: she was, and wanted to remain as, a virgin; God, now, proposes her to divine maternity.  Mary cannot understand it: “How can this be?” (Lk 1:34), she asks.  The Angel explains that virginity and maternity do not contradict each other; on the contrary, thanks to the Holy Spirit, they mesh perfectly together.  Not that she understands it better now, but that is enough for her, for the child will be God’s will, ”for God nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37).  Hence, her answer: “Let it be done to me as you have said” (Lk 1:38).  Let it be done!  Fiat!  Yes! Total acceptance of God’s Will, unconditionally!


This child to be born is conceived by the gracious action of the Holy Spirit upon Mary, who finds favor with God (Luke 1:28).  This child will be “great” and “Son of the Most High” and “King,” and his name shall be called “Jesus” (Luke 1:31-32), which means “the Lord saves.”  “He will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  The angel repeats to Mary, the daughter of the house of David, the promise made to King David: “The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (2 Samuel 7:12-16, Isaiah 9:6-7, Luke 1:32-33).


Mary’s response of “yes” to the divine message is a model of faith for all believers.  Mary believed God’s promises even when they seemed impossible.  She was full of grace because she trusted that what God said was true and would be fulfilled.  She was willing and eager to do God’s will, even if it seemed difficult or costly.  Mary is the “mother of God” because God becomes incarnate when he takes on flesh in her womb.  When we pray the Nicene Creed we state our confession of faith in this great mystery: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man”.


She became the mother of our Lord, as a servant of the Lord, in co-operation with God in the work of the Holy Spirit.  That is how it is always when any servant of God allows the Holy Spirit to do his work in our lives.  It depends upon our co-operation.  We are not subject to God’s will mechanically, like a robot, automatically doing what we are programmed to do under specific instructions.  In co-operation with God, we retain our own will power and may choose at any time to act differently.


A few verses later, when Mary visits Elizabeth (Luke 1:39–45), Elizabeth greets her as “the mother of my Lord.”  Jesuit Father Daniel Harrington says she was honoring Mary with “a title used in Israel’s monarchical time when the king’s mother was a more prominent figure at the royal court than the queen.”  Mary’s son will be a king.

Mary is a very human character [Matthew 13:54-57; Mark 6:3; John 6:41-42] in the New Testament.  Her will was not always in accord with the will of God.  But, in spite her lack of understanding, she remained loyal to him.


Mary was one of the few who was still there at the end as he was dying on the cross.  She shared her lack of understanding with the other disciples, and she was one of them [John 2:1-5, 12; Acts 1:14], but her puzzlement and wonder at it all never seemed to fall into doubt and despair as with the others disciples.  Her willingness to say let it be with me according to your word remained.


What is the key that unlocks the power and grace of God’s kingdom in our personal lives?  Faith and obedience for sure!  God gives us the grace to say “yes” to his will and to his transforming work in our lives and he expects us to respond with the same willing obedience and heartfelt trust as Mary did.  Like Mary, God is not going to give us any more than we can handle.  When God commands he also gives the help and means to respond.  We can either yield to his grace or resist and go our own way


Let Mary’s readiness to co-operate willingly within the freedom God allows, be an inspiration for us.  Today, especially, God needs servants who can be relied upon to be there when it counts in loyalty to Christ.  And you cannot be loyal to Christ without being loyal to his body, the church.   There have been testing times in the past; and a few faithful have always been found to carry on the witness to the truth in the face of enormous pressures to conform to the ways of the world.  This is one of those times.  We need the kind of loyalty that Mary had, the willingness, in spite of our puzzlement and lack of understanding, to say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”