Fourth Sunday in Advent Cycle B 2 Sam 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Rom 16:25-27; Lk 1:26-38
In the Gospel for this weekend we see just how human Mary is; we discover how much she is like us and how we are different. As human beings we are very inquisitive.
When told something is going to happen, we want to know what will happen, when and where it will occur and how it will take place. When we are asked to do something, it is also quite normal to ask questions about it.
Mary’s question to Gabriel, “How can this be?” is a normal human response. Mary wants to know how this pronouncement from Gabriel, that she will conceive a child, will take place since the normal circumstances for her to conceive a child have not occurred. Once she hears the answer, she proclaims, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.”
In biblical times the term handmaid was used to describe a servant. Mary’s response acknowledges that she is a servant of the Lord and it is as a servant of the Lord she is was able to say yes. When asked to participate in a ministry, we also may think that we are not worthy. We may make excuses why we can’t or shouldn’t say yes: we don’t have the time; we’re not knowledgeable enough; we don’t have the training to do those things to which God calls us.
The differences between our response and Mary’s are where it originates and its completeness. Mary receives the word of God from Gabriel first in her heart and then physically conceives the Word of God in her womb (St. Augustine Discourses, 215, 4, quoted by Pope Francis, Feast of the Immaculate Conception Homily, 2014).
Her response was complete, coming from her heart. Oftentimes when God calls us to a ministry in the Church through messengers today, our pastor or other Church leaders, our response comes from our head not our heart. Because it is not from our heart, we may have caveats, spoken or unspoken, and our yes isn’t complete.
We are like Mary in the grace we receive. The angel Gabriel referred to Mary as “full of grace” and she certainly was blessed as the mother of our Lord. However, she was more blessed to be his follower.
In response to the statement, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breast that fed you,” Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Lk 11:27-28).
We receive the same grace as Mary. At our baptism we were filled with grace and every time we approach the altar to receive Eucharist, that same grace is present. If we believe in our hearts that we are receiving the body and blood of Jesus that grace can also take hold of us. We are as blessed as Mary if we hear the word of God, Jesus, and also follow him.
As we prepare to remember and celebrate Jesus’ birth, we are reminded of Mary’s response. Paul tells us, “All glory belongs to … God who strengthens us through Jesus Christ.” Mary gave all glory to God through a yes that started in her heart and involved her whole being, and was able to bring Jesus to the world physically.
We are called to emulate Mary. If we say yes from our hearts and with our whole being, we become that of which we partake in the Eucharist and can be the physical presence of Jesus in our world.
Deacon Christopher Colville serves at Church of the Redeemer, Mechanicsville.