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Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Wonderment of Mary’s Choice. Homily from Luke 1:39-45. Advent Week 4

Homily for 12.23.12
4th Sunday of ADVENT
Luke 1:39-45 (see below)
Year C





Finally, in this the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Lectionary Gospel reading from St. Luke takes our minds and memory to the first Advent, toward the birth narratives of Jesus through the angelic promises announced to his Mother, Mary.

We come to the text in the middle of the events surrounding Jesus' birth announcement, which actually began with the angel promising the birth of the Baptizer to his mother Elizabeth and which ends with Mary's grand Magnificat.

In today's reading we see Mary, after the divine messenger spoke to her, traveling in haste to Zechariah's home in order to see the promised sign that would reveal the truth of the angel's promise to her. Namely, that Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, would herself be expecting a child in her old age(!), “for nothing will be impossible with GOD.” (1:37) 

It might be helpful and worth reviewing how St. Luke tells the story:
"In the sixth month, 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, favored one! 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.” (1:26-37)
OK, so, in today’s text and because of this angelic visitation we see Mary quickly taking a trip to Elizabeth's house to see the sign that the heavenly messenger promised her: 
"...she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb...'"
These events are so strange that, were in not for our familiarity with them, they would be incredible. And, in fact, they are incredible today in the literal sense of the word to many a commentator and church member alike.

How could there be an angelic messenger? How could their be a virgin birth? I have always thought, if the post-modern mind struggles with St. Luke's clues to the identity of Jesus, what do you think the struggles of Mary must have been like? Because she did struggle.

Here is Luke's description, 
But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 
“How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
No Kidding! This is exactly the right question, which makes her response to the heavenly vision all the more amazing:
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Really? Where have we seen such faith? Where is there to be found such a sublime (august, magnificent) response to such a deep challenge of credibility. 
"May it be done to me according to your word," 
shows this young woman to be the elemental person of faith. And as such, among other things, Mary offers us a glimpse at the true meaning of Advent. 

HAIL, FAVORED ONE!
The Angel Gabriel proclaims: "Hail, favored one!," and later goes on to declare: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God." 

We ask, what kind of woman stands before us? In these angelic greetings a vivid picture of this young woman emerges, which if unpacked allows us to find Mary in her rich clarity.

Think about it in this way. Luke portrays Mary as thoughtful about the heavenly visitation (1:29), obedient to the Divine call (1:38), faithful to fulfill the Lord’s word (1:45) and worshipful in her prophetic announcement (1:46)

So, is this why she was the favored one? Is this why she was singled-out for GOD? That is, GOD foresees her thoughtfulness, her obedience, her faithfulness and her worship, and therefore chooses her? Is the root of goodness in Mary?

No. Actually, it was the other way around. GOD loved Mary and his favor rested on her. His grace overshadowed her; his love closed in on her and prepared her, and because of this her piety was genuine, her purity was preserved, her thoughts were inspired and her heart was obedient. 

We see in Mary the calling of GOD's eternal plan realized in a human being. We see in Mary GOD’s mysterious and marvelous grace at work in profound measure. It is an amazing picture, really.

But, let’s dig deeper here. If GOD’s plan was actually to be accomplished, then as a human being Mary’s will must choose GOD's will; Mary’s heart must, without reservation, accept the way of GOD. Said differently, we must not love Mary so much that we strip her of humanity. No, the voice, which says, “May it be done to me according to your word,” must actually and fully be her voice and her choice. 

And amazingly it was just that. 

Mary’s choice is this unique (as in one of a kind) choice that continues to make her words and actions powerful and enlivening, even to us so long removed from her moment in history. In that moment of decision, with the stakes so high, she offered her life and future into the hands of the Almighty who had prepared her for that moment and that vocation.  

Mary is the example of the heart completely and utterly committed to be a follower of the LORD no matter what the heartache, no matter what the ridicule. GOD’s will was her will; GOD’s good work would be hers as well. End of story...  

OUR ADVENT
Now, our Advent attitude and heart preparation must learn from Mary’s willingness to offer her all to the LORD without reservation and without complaint. And while it is true that we are not prepared for so unique a vocation as hers, we do have a vocation and a place in GOD’s plan that is important and one of a kind for us.

Like Mary, we may be troubled by our own heavenly calling. We may not have recognized it, or we may be close to despair because we understand our time to be running out. Take heart, my brothers and sisters. It is not too late to hear and heed the word of the LORD. It is not too late to ask the right question: 
What should we do? Where should I go? What is my task? 
for the LORD will answer and you will find hope and meaning within the confines of the GOD-prepared heart.

However, that heart must be prepared; that will must be willing; that life must be surrendered. And that mind, that mind so clouded by selfishness, must be renewed and conformed to the fruit of Mary’s womb, the Messiah, the King, who has broken the back of death and evil in his first Advent, and when he appears again in his second Advent will forever reclaim the world and restore it to GOD's paradise intention!


___________________

LUKE 1:39-45
Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
"Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled."