Along with this homily for the fourth Sunday of Advent, allow me to extend to you my prayers, blessings and best wishes for a holy and happy Christmas. May it be for you a renewal of the presence of Christ in your life and your consent to the workings of God’s love.
Today’s gospel, the story of the Annunciation, is an intimately beautiful cameo of the mystery of God’s love for the human race. It has been embellished through thousands of literary interpretations, sculptural concretizations and magnificent paintings. All of these images are the fruits of artistic imagination, individual interpretation and personal faith. It is fascinating to see the variety of truly beautiful expressions of this visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary and her consent to God’s will. Very often, especially in the high Middle Ages, we see magnificent paintings of Mary dressed as a noblewoman surrounded by the accoutrements of a royal palace. Somehow or other, even with these exaggerations, she takes on the homely, individualized aspects of the artists’ time, nationality, and geography. Perhaps we could say she is given a certain relevance to the viewers for whom the artists are painting. This is a recognition that the mystery of the Annunciation is not confined to the village of Nazareth in the first century.
We really do not know the circumstances of this mystery, where Mary was at the time, what she was doing, and even how old she was. All we know about the angel is that his name was Gabriel and he was sent by God.
Theologically the Annunciation marks the real beginning of the Jesus story. If you want to put it in more sophisticated terms, it represents the presence of God in the human race in a new and unique way. It is a real answer to the one time popular song “What If God Became One of Us”. Or, as St. John puts it, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
It is because of this mystery that Mary has been given such an exalted place among the mysteries of Christian revelation and the devotion of the Christian church. As some of the early fathers like to put it, our salvation, the incarnation of the Son of God and the redemption of the human race was dependent upon the consent of Mary.
It would seem that in some ways, this does not entirely make sense. How could this insignificant nobody make such a decision. This is especially true when you consider that Mary did not realize the impact of what she was doing, had no idea of its magnitude and had no particular status in the hierarchy of the human political pantheon. How could she then be a spokesperson for the human race? How could her personal faith, her theologically uninformed consent inaugurate the presence of God in the bosom of his earthly creation as a human being? Concretely how could she speak for the human race? For the human race today? Even more concretely how could she speak for you and for me?
In a very real sense, the answer to these questions is that Mary could not do these things. Her consent enabled their possibility but it’s concrete application in our lives depends upon our consent. Through an incredible variety of manifestations, God sends his angel to each one of us, and we are given the opportunity to take our cue from the Virgin Mary and to say, “Be it done to me according to your will.” We are even given this opportunity to enter into the mystery of the Annunciation many times. Today, here, in our world, yours and mine, the presence of Christ depends upon our consent. Every blessing, every joy, every suffering, pain and tragedy that enters into our lives calls forth from us the same loving, humble consent that Mary gave. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word”.
Christmas is a reaffirmation of this mystery. It is an acknowledgment that we consent to the presence of Christ in our midst. That we are willing to recognize that whatever we do to the least of our brothren, we do to and for Christ who is present among us. That we are one with Christ even as he is one with the Father. That he has sent us the Holy Spirit to be his continued presence in our world and to remind us of all that he has taught. That he is born into this world through the consent of Christians and that his peace, which surpasses all understanding, is ours only through our humble, loving and personal consent to the words of the angel Gabriel: “The power of the most high shall overshadow you.”
It is especially at Christmas that we are invited, along with Mary, to bring the Christ into the world, into our personal worlds. We are reminded that, not only on Christmas, but every day of our lives the angel of the Lord comes unto us and calls forth from faithful and loving hearts our consent to God’s will on earth even as it is in heaven.
May you be happy,
May you be free,
May you be loving,
May you be loved.
Father William Meninger