I always enjoy encountering the central figures of the season of Advent: Mary, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Joseph, Zechariah, and others. What strikes me is their openness to God’s will and God’s miraculous plan that is set before them. God uses them as instruments and their yes to God’s will and word helps inaugurate a new pathway for humanity – a decisive shift to light and restoration. To be sure, it is God who takes the initiative, through God’s Spirit and often through his Angel messengers. God chooses to cooperate with humanity in unfolding his plan of salvation and invites us to be agents of restoration through his grace.
I have said often that Mary and John the Baptist are exemplars of two virtues that we see manifested through them simultaneously: humility and boldness. Mary and John the Baptist are able manifest both of these virtues because they realize that everything from God is pure gift. Additionally, they rely on God completely in living out their respective missions – entrusted to them on their journey of faith. As we approach the conclusion of Advent and the beginning of Christmas season, we too are called to humbly open ourselves to God’s grace so that we can boldly proclaim the message of God’s love to the world.
On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear from Luke’s famous account of the Annunciation where the Angel Gabriel boldly announces the coming and miraculous birth of Jesus, “Son of the Most High.” The greeting of the Angel to Mary employs a phrase entirely new and unfamiliar to Mary – “Hail full of grace.” Mary ponders what sort of greeting this could be as she would have not previously encountered this phrase in the Hebrew Scripture. Indeed, the unique greeting of Mary by the Angel Gabriel signals that something new and quite extraordinary has entered into the story of humanity – a decisive shift toward the the redemption and restoration of humanity is close at hand.
When I enter into this beautiful passage from Luke spiritually, I often imagine the scene. In my prayer, I see a scene which takes place early in the morning as Mary is deeply immersed in prayer. Conceived without original sin and as a faithful daughter of God, Mary was likely devout and already filled with the Spirit – the first redeemed by Christ. This faithful disposition for Mary – likely leavened by deep prayer and communion with God – allows Mary’s heart to be the rich soil from which her Fiat ushers forth. Although Scripture scholars opine that Mary was likely a young woman when visited by the Angel Gabriel and also likely afraid, she responds with great faith, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Mary’s yes to God’s will and word is essential as God has chosen to redeem and restore human nature from within – through the grace of his Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ.
In our lives of faith, Mary’s Fiat is a model of openness and trust as we seek to live faithfully as disciples. Like Mary, our lives are also marked at times by fear – times when we may even be troubled by the path that the Lord has set before us. Mary’s yes to God is a game changer – God uses Mary to bring Christ to the world and all of history is forever changed as a result. Could God have chosen a different way to redeem humanity – certainly. But God didn’t’ – God chose to rely on Mary’s yes in bringing forth his Incarnate son into the world. Likewise, God invites his children – his followers – to cooperate with his grace in restoring humanity. Like Mary, we are called to be bearers of Christ to the world – this also requires our yes – our cooperation with God’s grace. One of the most important lessons I continue to learn in my life of faith is that discerning and doing the will of God allows us to work with God in continuing his saving mission and, at the same time, allows us to experience the deep happiness and fulfillment that God desires for us.
I wish you and your families a joyful Christmas season! Please always know how welcome you are at The Basilica of Saint Mary and know too that God loves you with a deep and abiding love.