MAY IT BE DONE TO ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Fourth Sunday of Advent
26In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,27to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.28And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”29But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.30Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.32 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,33and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”34But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”35And 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.36And 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;37for nothing will be impossible for God.”38Mary 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.
Other readings: 1 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14-16; Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25-27
We have arrived at the Fourth Sunday of Advent, just a few days before the celebration of the birth of the Messiah. Up until now we have heard Jesus speak about the return of the Son of Man; we have seen John preaching the necessity of being prepared for the immediate judgement of Israel; and we’ve heard John announcing that the “Lamb of God” has already arrived. Suddenly, in today’s reading, the context takes an unexpected turn, and a new character enters upon the stage: Mary. She is a young woman, (only a girl by our standards), a humble Jewish “handmaid.” According to Luke’s account, she has nothing to do with the court where the Messiah was supposed to be born, where all the prophecies about the destiny of Israel would be fulfilled.
As usual, God makes his plans work out at times and in places, by means and through persons, that stubbornly disconcert humans. Isaiah would have said: “God’s ways are not our ways.” Not only do the elements that appear in the readings contrast with one another, but also the concepts themselves disconcert us. As usual, I will limit my task to pointing out the apparently “small” details which are, in fact, much more meaningful than we might think.
Let us bear in mind a basic fact: we are dealing with something as serious as the coming of the “Messiah,” the anointed heir to the throne of David. His kingdom will mean not only the restoration of Israel, but also peace to the nations; in a sense, what Augustus, with his Pax Romana, had achieved in the Empire. For Luke the Kingdom of God will arrive in a peculiar way. Its origin will not be Rome, not even Jerusalem, but a family residing in Nazareth, a practically unknown town. The actual birthplace of the Messiah will be Bethlehem, an even smaller village, where the parents, belonging to the lower working class, have been obliged to go because of a census. Not only that, the parents of the King-to-be-born are only betrothed and do not yet live together when the bride becomes pregnant. Put together all those “details,” and what at first seems a beautiful, incredible proposal to a young Jewish girl, begins to imply a series of problems, beginning with a grave threat to her reputation.
However God’s plan depends on the answer from that humble, unimportant woman in a small town in Israel, not on the decisions made in Rome by powerful politicians. Incredibly, God’s designs are subjected to the will of a person “deeply troubled” at the words of a mysterious angel. Years later, those designs will depend on another humble person: Jesus, a rabbi whom some consider the Messiah, assailed by his enemies, betrayed by one of his closest disciples and abandoned by the rest, whom we see praying and in such “agony” that he is sweating something like drops of blood (22:39). We find, again, that the key is a paradox for our logical standards. Salvation will come because both Mary and Jesus accept willingly God’s plans and subject their own will to his will: “May it be done to me according to your word” (1:38); “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (22:42).
A final detail: God’s presence among his people will not be confined to the dark chamber of a temple, even if it is magnificent and imposing (that is what David had desired), but will dwell in the womb of a woman and will become man. No more “mediations” -- ark, holy spaces, prophetic oracles or laws -- but God’s Word will become visible as a human being who shares our own nature
If you read commentaries on our passage from Luke, you will find a good number of interpretations concerning the “virgin birth.” They may range from the literal reading to a merely symbolic, literary approach. In any case, the real miracle everybody must recognize is not the fact of the mysterious birth, but Mary’s miraculous acceptance of God’s will in spite of all the risks her “yes” implied. These risks included everything from being stoned (as she was betrothed, her pregnancy could be considered the result of adultery), to being repudiated by Joseph, plus the public shame and discrimination to which she would be subjected in a small village like Nazareth. Nevertheless, she was able to accept God’s plans with all their consequences. She simply asked: “How can this be?” How many questions do we ask; how many conditions do we set or accept when dealing with our Christian demands and responsibilities? What role does God’s word or will play in our lives? Comparing David and Mary once again: what kind of temple or shelter can we offer Jesus?
Pray for those who face a moment in which they must make serious decisions concerning their future: that they may let the Spirit guide them and follow their personal path in fidelity to themselves and Jesus’ demands.
Let us pray for ourselves: that having in mind Mary’s attitude, we may face our Christian life with realism and a firm decision to listen to Jesus’ calling to follow him and accept the Father’s will.
Pray for those who have nothing to “prepare” for Christmas, as they will be alone, bedridden, or forgotten: that Christians near them may come to their help and remember that the “spirit of Christmas” should extend further than this short time of the year.
Mary had a nine month period of time to prepare herself for Jesus’ birth; we have only three days before Christmas, and they will be packed with shopping, arranging everything in our homes for family gatherings, making last-moment phone calls and much more. As usual, do not think I am trying to “moralize,” but take some time to enter your inner self. Try to remove any speck of resentment or bitterness from your heart, so that nothing hinders Jesus’ coming. And do not forget those who will face Christmas (and the rest of the year) in conditions similar to those of Mary and Joseph. I am sure you can do something practical to help them.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón,Roman Catholic priest,Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain