December 20, 2020 - Fourth Sunday of Advent
How can our own fears prevent us from allowing God to work in our lives?
What do we need to do in order to be more receptive to God’s presence in the world?
Today marks the fourth Sunday of Advent, and our worship focus shifts from the return of Christ in glory to the celebration of the Christ child’s birth, the anniversary of which will take place in 5 days.
In today’s Gospel, we read of Mary and Joseph making plans for the baby’s birth -- Luke’s account of the Annunciation by the Archangel Gabriel. Luke has already told of God’s intervention in the birth of John to Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. But God’s plan for this birth is only the beginning. If the child whom his parents never expected to have is to be a prophet, then the child’s task is to make ready the way for a more decisive revelation: God’s raising up of the Messiah.
God, the creator of all, will take on human nature. This cannot be just another experience of God appearing in human form, as in the Garden of Eden. To take human nature, it will not suffice God to form a human body like ours. It has to be a body that will undergo development and birth, that will grow in mind and maturity. If it were not so, we could scarcely take seriously that the body would suffer or die, and certainly if the body didn’t die that it could not be raised.
For God to take on human nature, a mother is necessary. But in this, as with all other things, God respects human freedom. While Luke certainly knew of stories such as Zeus and Alkmene, the Gospel couldn’t begin with such an act. The mother of the Messiah needed to accept her call willingly and with some understanding of its full meaning.
Gabriel, the chief messenger of God, is sent. Like Michael, Gabriel is mentioned in the Book of Daniel. Gabriel, meaning ‘God is my strength’, also appeared to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. He begins his annunciation to Mary with, “Greetings, favored one!” (Lk 1:28).
And then Gabriel says ‘The LORD is with you’. In the Book of Judges, the angel that appeared to Gideon began, ‘The LORD is with you, you mighty warrior.’ In the Second Book of Chronicles, we read that the prophet Azariah received the spirit of God: ‘The spirit of God came upon Azariah.’ Azariah then told Asa, the King of Judah, ‘The LORD is with you.’ Truly, the spirit of God was upon Mary.
But there was much more to the message. Mary was young; she had no great list of achievements to her name. She had not yet met the Prophet Anna, but in her humility she would have supposed that such a greeting would be for someone more like that holy woman. Truly, the whole thing was confusing, even frightening, for Mary.
Nor did it help when the angel went on with more of the message. The favor that she had found with God was that she would bear a son and call him Jesus. Like most young women, she had hoped one day to have a child; but she wasn’t ready for it yet, and it didn’t help to be told that her son would be great and would be called ‘Son of the Most High’ (Lk 1:32).
It was all too much for Mary to grasp. “How can this be … ?” (Lk 1:34) she asked. Gabriel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you ... “ (1:35) was the answer. Mary would give birth to one who would be known as the Son of God. And so Mary would experience a demonstration that there is no limit to what God can do. And truly, Mary’s ready response of “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (1:38) confirms that she is indeed the woman to fulfill this high calling.
God has entered our world. Jesus has shown us what the nature of God is and what should be expected of human character. To be clear, we are NOT called to the vocation of Mary, to physically bear Christ into the world. But her example, her faith and obedience and absolute trust in God, are to be elements of our lives. As we think of Christmas, may we think of Mary’s response and say, as she did, “Let God’s will be done in mine.” As we come to the ending of our Advent journey this week, I’d like to offer some questions for you to ponder: How can our own fears prevent us from allowing God to work in our lives? And what do we need to do in order to be more receptive to God’s presence in the world