4th Sunday of Advent (B)

Today we are invited to reflect on two verses from the anecdote of the Annunciation: Angel saluting Mary, as ˜Hail Mary! Full of Grace the Lord is with you and Behold the Handmaid of the Lord. It is an invitation from the Lord and an acceptance of the Divine plan. This Gospel passage can never be understood with out looking the creation narrative and the alienation of man from God given in the book of Genesis. It is the story of Paradise that is God and creatures living in harmony. The paradise lost, because of pride, ambition and disobedience. In Mary we find the Paradise regained, because of her humility, obedience, surrender and willingness to listen and carry out the plan of God. It is the fullness of grace that helped her to be attuned to the voice of God. King David was eager to build a house for God and the prophet encouraged him, but the word of the Lord was revealed to the prophet that it is the Lord who will build his temple. This is the realization of the promises God had made to Abraham, Moses and finally to David.

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 to 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). Mary is filled with God’s favor and graciousness, which she has in no way earned, but which was given as a gratuitous gift by God.    The angel Gabriel told Mary that the Lord is pleased to be with her: She is the new Ark, a tent and temple.

Mary’s perplexity versus Zechariah’s doubts:  Mary’s question, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” is natural, very much like Zechariah’s, “How will I know that this is so?  For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years” (1:18).  However, the angel struck Zechariah mute for his unbelief because Zechariah asked for a sign — tangible proof that the angel was telling the truth.  Mary’s question, on the other hand, springs from an understandable confusion of mind.  Mary on the other hand, simply asked for clarification. She already believed that “nothing is impossible to God,” so she listened with faith. Mary is fully aware of the significance and consequences of the angel’s message. In a flash, she recognizes the new challenges that will emerge in her betrothal and the crisis into which this pregnancy could throw both families (see Dt. 22:13-21 and Nm 5:11-31). That is why the angel reminds Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”  He will “empower” her (“the spirit will come upon you“) and “protect” her (“overshadow you“), from any danger.

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”   It is ironic that Zechariah, who asked for a sign, was punished (1:20), while Mary, who did not ask for a sign, was given one.  If Mary wanted to know how she could bear a son while remaining a virgin, she need only to look to her kinswoman Elizabeth who, despite her age, was pregnant, Gabriel tells her.    If God could create new life in old woman, He could surely do the same in a young virgin: “For nothing will be impossible with God” (v. 37).  Again, Luke adopts O.T. language.  When the Lord announced the impending birth of Isaac, Sarah laughed.  The Lord responded by saying, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” (Gn. 18:14 – see also Jesus’ comment at Luke 18:27). This is truly Gospel – Good News – for those of us who find ourselves in impossible situations.   As we walk with the Lord, however, no situation is beyond redemption.

“May it be done to me according to your word.” Mary does not require confirmation, but responds in Faith. 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” (1 Sm. 1:18) — Samuel’s “Here I am” (1 Sm. 3:4).  Raymond Brown says “Mary’s response qualifies her as Jesus’ first disciple.  Subsequent references to her are consistent with this pattern (Luke 1:45ff; 8:19-21; 11:27-28; Acts 1:14).  Her humble acquiescence to the will of God commends itself to every believer: “’Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me. 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.

The significance of Mary’s yes: 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. If Mary had said “No,” instead of “Yes,” history might have been different – although we know that God’s plans would not have been frustrated. 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? “The Blessed Virgin Mary was the first human person who could say of Jesus, “This is my body, this is my blood.” She was the first altar of the Incarnation’s mystery.

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, because it can involve going against the tide of social expectations. True obedience also aims at putting oneself at the service of something. Someone that is greater than oneself by accepting what God clearly wants us to do or what He wants to do through us. Jesus’ own moment of greatness, like his Mother’s, came when he said “Yes,” to his Father in Gethsemane, and Jesus’ own obedience is our model. Will we surrender to God and allow God to do what, from our human point of view, seems impossible?  Will we surrender our agenda, our will and our kingdom to God and allow God’s agenda; will and Kingdom become a reality for and through us?  It is by saying, with Jesus and Mary, a wholehearted and totally unconditional “Yes,” to God  that Jesus will be re-born in me or maybe even born in me for the first time.