Fourth Sunday of Advent 2017
On this Christmas Eve morning we listen to the amazing story of the annunciation.
The story is very familiar to us. So much so, that it may have lost its power. We need to remind ourselves of the significance of this story.
God, the creator of all that exists breaks into human history in the most amazing and profound way. God chooses to dwell with the human race in bodily form, becoming the son of a poor, young girl named Mary.
The image of the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary has been a favorite of artists for centuries. I recall reading that this scene is one of the most painted scenes in all of history.
The story is so familiar that it doesn’t seem at all shocking or radical. But it should. This event represents a life altering event for all of us – for human kind.
God becomes man. God takes on human flesh.
God fills humanity with his divinity.
The creator of the universe chooses to become one of us in order to save us.
God chooses to become flesh and bone.
That moment, represented in the annunciation story is shocking.
God who created humanity becomes a human being.
The pivotal moment is that moment when Mary says yes and the Holy Spirit overshadows her and her son, God’s Son is conceived in her womb.
But there’s more.
God chooses a teenage girl from Nazareth to be the mother of his Son. He chooses to physically dwell for a time in the body of a woman. God comes to save humanity not with legions of armies and with power and might, but rather through a virgin who was not even yet married – in other words someone at the lowest strata of society.
The story has taken on a quaintness. Hasn’t it? Mary encounters the angel and, although she questions the angel’s invitation because she is a virgin, she says yea to God’s request.
But imagine the scene as it really was. Remember what you were like at fourteen or fifteen years of age. We can imagine Mary not with a halo around her head, confident and full of trust in God, but rather scared to death, confused, frozen in terror at the appearance of the angel and at this preposterous request. She must have wondered if she was going crazy seeing an angel and asked to bear the Son of God.
Mary is young, uneducated, not yet married, unprepared for motherhood. Of course, Gabriel has to tell her not to be afraid. She is shaking in her sandals.
Mary is told that she will become the mother of the Most High 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."
Mary is absolutely on target when she asks “how can this be?” But God has chosen her and she consents to the invitation. Her yes is as preposterous as the request.
Mary’s yes fulfills the promise that we heard about in the first reading. A thousand years earlier, Kind David desires to build a temple for the Ark of the Covenant, the very presence of God. Through the prophet Nathan, God tells David that He does not want David to build Him a house. He says:
“The LORD also reveals to you
that he will establish a house for you.
And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever."
God’s plan of salvation is being enacted and inaugurated in this scene. A promise made a thousand years before is being fulfilled by God in the most unusual of ways. The Holy Spirit overshadows Mary and she conceives the Savior in her womb and in him and through him God’s Kingdom is established forever.
This is radical stuff! Shocking and unbelievable. God acts in a mysterious and amazing way.
But how does this involve us? God still chooses to dwell with us. Like Mary we have been offered a preposterous invitation to be part of God’s salvation plan. We too are overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and have been impregnated with divinity. God’s divine spirit dwells in us and we are asked to say yes to be a part of this divine restoration project. We are called to say yes to build the kingdom of God which will endure forever.
Before saying yes, consider what you are saying yes to. It should cause us to shake in our sandals (or shoes) too! This will not be some quaint or simple request. It will require courage, sacrifice, and great love. Building a kingdom of justice and peace is not easy and carries a heavy cost. Mary’s response should guide us:
"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word."