The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
On this 4th Sunday of Advent it is not Jesus that the Church places before us in the Gospel lesson, but his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation is familiar to us, perhaps too familiar. We must not trust in our familiarity and rush through it, for this is not just another familiar reading from Scripture. It is the Gospel—the truly Good News—announcing the salvation of the world and specifically to us here gathered. It is the announcement of the Messiah, the Savior of the world, our Savior. This is truly Good News. It says that neither this world of ours, so full of evil and despair, suffering and danger, nor our own lives which are so often fraught with shame and embarrassment, selfishness and resentment and fear, anger and anxiety, lust and apathy and all the nefarious quests for power and domination; neither the world nor ourselves shall be abandoned and unredeemed. Soon a light will shine on a stable in Bethlehem, a light that heralds the rising Sun and the beginning of a new day.
A young girl is in labor. She is destined to be the mother of the Most High, the mother of God’s own Son, who comes to bring this Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom of justice and peace, of mercy and love, a kingdom that will carry the day over the kingdoms of this world and maintain its rule forever.
Yes, God Himself will come and have the final word, wiping away all the tears and fulfilling all the prayers, all the longing, all the hope.
This is no mere pipe dream. It became reality because this young girl, Mary, in spite of her questions, uncertainty, doubt and most certainly some fear, this young girl gathered all her courage and said, “Yes.”
She elaborated: “Behold I am the handmade of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” And so she became the dawn preceding the sunrise of salvation.
This was the “there and then” message that we so lovingly and heartily embrace every Christmastide. But there is a “here and now” application upon which we must reflect. For Mary’s response is the model for our response; it is the example of true faithfulness.
There are some of us who, when pressed with this, will think, “I have never had the experience of an angel being sent to me. It may be true enough that what happened to Mary was extraordinary and unique, but it has never happened to me and I doubt very much if it ever will.”
But I must tell you that it does happen to us. Perhaps not in so dramatic fashion. God does speak to us in a myriad of ways and remember all angels are messengers from God. When an Angel speaks, God speaks. He very well may send us an angel without wings. A messenger we may not see but who will speak to us in the depth of our hearts.
In his little book of meditations entitled Accepting the Mystery, Cardinal Walter Kasper reflected, As I see and understand her, Mary was a person who quieted herself and listened, a person who listened with and within her heart as God spoke to her about what God wanted from her and about what her life’s task would be; we, on the other hand, are too often focused on the outside world, distracted by many things that seem important or interesting and fascinating. Because we are like this, we miss or crowd out the voices that speak to us from the depths and in silence. And so we have to ask ourselves: Are we really aware of what is happening to us in our own depths, of what God is saying to us, of what God wants?
As we prepare to come before the manger and behold him who will be named Jesus, let us not forget that each of us has a name, a personal name, which indicates that I am unique. Although I may share this name with many others, my name still distinguishes me from everyone else. This name is not simply what you and I are called by family and friends, but this is the name by which God calls you and me. God knows you. God has called you from before time and will never forget you. That you are here on this earth is not the result of blind coincidence or the product of an undirected evolution. On the contrary, from the time of your conception you are here to be loved, and to be honored and greeted and welcomed into this world. “The Lord is with you.” Grace does reign and holds sway in your life. “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.”
When we receive and embrace this insight, then we are open to something more. Yes, God wants me to exist and he does love me. But God also wants something from me. God wants something from you. You have a task and mission in this world. It’s not the same as Mary’s mission of being God’s mother. But we, each and every one of us, has the task and mission of receiving God in our hearts, not as a gift for ourselves and not as our private property, but as a gift, a present for others. As we share our gifts, a light goes out from us, a light that makes the darkness of the world just a little brighter.
Certainly questions and doubts rise immediately. How can this happen? And the answer to this is the same as the answer that Mary received: the Holy Spirit will come upon you, the Spirit of Counsel and Strength, of wisdom and courage. But God’s Spirit does not take hold of us without our permission. The Spirit awaits our answer, our readiness, our “Yes.”
The story that begins with the Angel Gabriel confronting Mary continues on. It’s continuity through the centuries in the lives of God’s people, so very similar to you and me, and yet each one so distinct, sets the stage for God to act in this life of each one here. We have before us Holy women and men who have said “yes,” and consequently the world receives light.
Today, it is our task to become small morning stars, announcing the sun of justice and love, it is our own witness to Jesus Christ our Savior. “O Come Let Us Adore Him…”