2Sam 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Rom 16:25-27; Lk 1:26-38
Today’s celebration of the Mass commemorates the Fourth Sunday of Advent. In a few days, we will join together to celebrate the coming of the Light of God into the world on December 25 (Christmas Day). On Christmas we celebrate the coming of Jesus in the world. Maybe more than any other time of the year, we feel God’s closeness to us for it seems to be easier to open our hearts to Him. And so today’s gospel presents Mary and her initiation to the first Christmas. Seeing her faith during the annunciation, this helps us to prepare properly for Christmas.
Let us pay attention to what happened to the conversation between Mary and the angel Gabriel.
Mary listens. The angel announces that the Messiah will be born in her and she listens. Her greatness comes through her faithful listening. Mary listens, asks for clarification and finally accepts to be the servant of the Lord.
Prayer, in the first place, is a listening. We can ask questions but the answers will come through listening. It is not only with God that we need a listening attitude. If there are difficulties with members of our family, it is often because we do not know how to listen. We are ready with our answer but we have not understood yet the question.
Mary accepts. Mary is deeply disturbed even by the initial greeting of the angel. But Angel Gabriel showers her with assurances that everything will be alright.”Do not be afraid….The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God,” (v. 35). These words of assurance eventually brought Mary to turn her negative emotion to a humble word of acceptance.
The important word in these angel’s words of assurance is overshadow. The word is rarely used in the Bible. In the Old Testament, however, we can find it in the book of Exodus. It says that as soon as the cloud overshadowed the tent, “The Lord’s presence filled it,” (Ex. 40:34). It was in the tent that the Ark of the Covenant was kept and God overshadowed or covered it.
Luke’s choice of this word is not accidental but it is deeply symbolic. He compared Mary’s body to the tent in which the Ark of the Covenant was kept. He compared Mary’s womb in which Jesus will be housed, to the Ark of the Covenant in which the tablet of the Ten Commandments were housed. Thus when God’s power overshadows Mary, the Lord’s ‘presence’ fills her.
Here we should recall also that God could be present to each other in different ways. Like for example, when I was still a five-year-old boy, my mother told me that I always hugged my father’s leather jacket whenever my father was away. When this leather jacket was taken from me, I cried, surely because I missed my father and he was present to me through the jacket I hugged.
In a similar way, God is present to us in different ways. First, God is present to us in creation. God put something of himself in creation, just as a sculptor put something of himself in his masterpiece.
Second, God is present to us in the words of Scripture. God’s thoughts are present to us in the Scripture, just as a sculptor’s thoughts are present to us in his masterpiece. Lastly, God is present to us in Jesus. God became present to us in flesh and blood, just as a sculptor can be present to us in his flesh and blood.
Mary believes. Her faith was humble and hence she first believes and only then reasons upon it and so the angel said to her: “Know that Elizabeth your kinswoman has conceived a son in her old age; she who was thought to be sterile is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible with God,” (vv. 36-37). The important words in the sentence are the words, ‘nothing is impossible with God.’ Before God’s power overshadows Mary, the world had no hope. Sin and violence were everywhere. The human race had no hope of salvation. It was held slavery by Satan. St. Elizabeth had no hope of giving birth to a son because she was old and sterile. Even the Blessed Virgin Mary had no hope of bearing a child because she is a virgin. But when God overshadows Mary, He changes all these especially when Jesus has entered the world through Mary’s great fiat. Yes God wants Mary to submit even the noble reason of faith.
Unlike this story I read about a man who was dangerously hanging on to a single branch on the top of a tree from where he could not climb down. He cried out to God: “Oh God, save me; you know I believe in you. All that I asked of you is to save me and I shall proclaim your name to the ends of the earth.” “Very well,” said the voice of God, “I shall save. Let go off of the branch.”
The distraught man yelled out: “Let go off of the branch? Hello, do you think I’m crazy?” Some people cling to their reason so adamantly that they are never able to see the light of faith. Mary’s faith is ever active and hence she does not only accept the divine truth but dwell upon it, use it and develop it. Her is ever active and hence she says, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.”
Mary obeys. Her obedience is risk-taking when she says, “Let it be done according to your word,” (v. 38). Her obedience is loving. She loves God and hence trusts in Him and obeys. She kept on saying, ‘yes’ to God until the end of her earthly life to be the Mother of God.
Mother of Christ is a title we usually reserve to Mary. But Mary is mother of Christ in two senses. She is mother if Christ in the physical sense that she carries Jesus in her womb and gives birth to Him. This is an unrepeatable event and an honor that no other human being could share with her. But she is also mother of Christ in a spiritual sense. In a spiritual sense the role of being mother of Christ is available to all Christians. We all, men, women and children, can and should become mothers of Christ. But to be mothers of Christ are no easy task.
And so as we continue to celebrate the Holy Mass, let us remember that the Lord Jesus is with us, having established His spiritual Kingdom on earth on the Day of Pentecost. May we remember that by partaking in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in the visible Body of Christ, we are participating in the great feast in the invisible Kingdom of God on earth.
See Today’s Readings: Year B,