4th Sunday of Advent
II Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a-16; Ps. 89; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
In the encounter between the awesome angel and the fearful virgin, his invitation in the name of God and her simple response, “May it be done to me according to your word” – in that the history of the world is forever changed, transformed radically. The promise made to King David by Nathan the prophet: “I will raise up your heir …and I will make his kingdom firm…your throne will stand firm forever” was now reality. The word of the promise is now the Word-made flesh, Emmanuel.
St. Paul wrote to Timothy: “All Scripture is inspired of God and is useful for teaching – for reproof, correction and training in holiness…” (2 Tim 3: 16) The Gospel account of the annunciation to Mary presents the Virgin Mother to us for the first time and between the lines, tells us something of her faith, her obedience. But this Sacred Word also teaches us about our own faith life, in particular, our worship in this Mass.
There are striking parallels between Mary’s experience and our own as we celebrate this Holy Eucharist. The angel greets Mary: “The Lord is with you…you have found favor with God” and we are greeted with “The Lord be with you” because God desires His favor, His supreme love to rest upon us and especially into us.
Mary is graced to hear what this favor means: “Behold, you will conceive and bear a son…He will be great and called Son of the Most High…of His kingdom there will be no end.” For this young woman, this is incomprehensible, beyond her ability to understand so she questions: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the answer is clear, so very clear and so exceedingly mysterious: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
In this Mass we hear and see and taste God’s extraordinary favor to us in our reception of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus. And we looking upon a piece of unleavened bread and a chalice of wine can also ask: “How can this be, how can such simple, material things become the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus Christ?”
The answer to our question is similar to the one Mary received. The Holy Spirit of God, whom we invoke in the Eucharistic Prayer, takes what is ordinary and transforms it by His power – the words of the prayer are: “O Lord, we humbly implore You: by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to You for consecration, that they may become the Body and Blood of Your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate these mysteries.” (Eucharistic Prayer III)
She bore the long-awaited Christ within her and the angel’s greeting, “Hail, full of grace” could never be truer. The Eternal Son of God in His sacred Humanity was growing, developing in her – the reality, the incarnation of the Son of God is completely beyond our limited understanding but not beyond our belief because we, too, are overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. How else could we hold such a belief?
Today, this very day, we leave this church bearing within us the Lord Jesus Christ, the living fullness of grace. To all outward appearances, we appear the same but inwardly, deep in our hearts we are not the same. The Christ, the Son of the Father, the giver of the Holy Spirit, has come into us…what does this mean for me, for you? How does this supreme favor invite me, command me to live? Each of us in receiving Christ needs to answer that.
Mary lived her life in faithful, loving obedience – as Jesus said of her, “She heard the word of God and kept it.” May we, too, be such hearers and keepers.