4th Sunday of Advent Year B – 14
2Sam.7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Rom.16:25-27; Lk.1:26-38
There is a story 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 you and now let go off of the branch.” The distraught man yelled out: “Let go off of the branch? Hello, My God, 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 dwells upon it, uses it and develops it. Her faith is ever active and hence she says, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” The Gospel stresses the key role of Mary in the work of our salvation.
In addition, today’s Scripture texts describe God’s promise to David and its fulfillment in Jesus, the Son of David. They also tell us that God’s preparation for the coming of Jesus was full of surprises. Today’s Gospel surprises us by telling us that this King would be born to an ordinary virgin, not by means of sexual relationship, but through the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel surprises by reminding us that God’s promise is best fulfilled not in buildings, or even great kings like Solomon, but rather in humble souls like Mary who trusted in God’s promise. Now let us pay attention to what happened to the conversation between Mary and the angel Gabriel. The first thing is that 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. In the two annunciations described in Luke’s Gospel, neither Elizabeth nor Mary appears to be likely candidate for motherhood. Elizabeth is too old and Mary is a virgin.
The angel’s salutation to Mary, “Hail, full of grace,” reminds us of God’s words to Moses at the burning bush, “I will be with you” (Ex.3:12), the angel’s salutation Gideon, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior” (Jgs.6:12) and the Lord’s assurance to Jeremiah, “Be not afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jer.1:8).
The second thing is 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.
The word “overshadow” is also used at the Transfiguration (9:34) and in a story of Peter’s healing ministry (Acts.5:15). In all these places the verb clearly refers to Divine presence and power. The angel makes it clear that the child “will be holy” and “will be called Son of God.” 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. And we know that 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.
The third thing is that Mary believes. Her faith was humble and hence she first believes and only then reasons upon it. The important words in the sentence are, ‘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.
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 to the noble reason of faith. The next is Mary obeys. Her obedience is risk-taking when she says, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Her obedience is a loving obedience. She loves God and hence trusts in Him and obeys.
She agrees to carry out the Word Gabriel has addressed to her. Her response again calls forth OT language. Abraham’s “Here I am” (Gn.22:1) Isaiah’s “Here am I, send me” (Is.6:8) Hannah’s “Think kindly of your maidservant”(1Sam.1:18) Samuel’s “Here I am” (1Sam.3:4). Mary’s response qualifies her as Jesus’ first disciple. Mary is thus presented as the perfect disciple.
Those who find out what God wants of them and accept His message as Mary did are Jesus’ true followers. Those who only hear the Word but never put it into action are deceiving themselves. Christian Faith is a matter of continually making Jesus a part of our lives.
Jesus’ earthly existence begins with Mary’s “Yes” in today’s account of the Annunciation. Although we normally regard the birth of Jesus as the beginning of God’s presence among us, the Church teaches that the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit took place at the moment that Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus.
Mary’s “Yes,” changed the world. Her obedience to God’s call changed the lives of all of us. How many times have we said “No,” to God? How different would things be for us and for others if we had said “Yes,” to him more often? We need to say a courageous and generous “Yes” to God as Mary did.
True obedience comes from a free choice made in the light of what is true and good. It often requires a great deal of courage. True obedience also aims at putting oneself at the service of something/Someone that is greater than oneself. Will we surrender to God and allow God to do what seems impossible from our human point of view?
Will we surrender our agenda, our will and our kingdom to God and allow God’s agenda God’s will and God’s Kingdom become a reality for and through us? It is by saying “yes” wholeheartedly and unconditionally to God that Jesus will be re-born in us or maybe even born in us for the first time. By our saying “yes” Jesus will be born or reborn in others too.
The Good News in today’s Scripture message is not only that God is making provision for the salvation of His people, but also that He has a plan for each individual person. In many cases, our work for God seems rather ordinary, but each ordinary task which we carry out fits into God’s plan in ways that we cannot yet understand. God desires not the skill of our hands but the love of our hearts.
The Babe in the Manger reminds us of what God has done and is still doing for us. What are we doing in return? Let us show our gratitude to God by living as true followers of Christ saying: “Behold here I am Lord to do thy will.” Amen.