A Homily for 12.21.14
from Luke 1:26-45
4th Sunday of ADVENT
from a Homily first posted
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 hearing Jesus' birth announcement, which begins 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 St. Luke’s Mary account of these of this angelic visitation, and then we see Mary quickly taking a trip to Elizabeth's house to see the sign that the heavenly messenger promised her:
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?
But, here is an even more troubling idea. If the post-modern mind struggles with what St. Luke offer as the 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 actually 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, it is not.
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. God chose Mary.
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 those of 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.
Who is not amazed by this faith?
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.
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!