Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Fourth Sunday of Advent - Waiting with Mary

Reflecting on the mystery of the Incarnation, Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (d. ca. 202) wrote that “God is man’s glory. Man is the vessel which receives God’s action and all his wisdom and power.” In these final days of Advent, the Church shifts her focus from the advent of Christ at the end of time, to preparing for Christmas. In a particular way, today we are invited to reflect on Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  

Although the story of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38, the Gospel for this Sunday) is one we know well, it’s a powerful testimony of God’s power to initiate, invite, and create. Here, we have a teenage girl, undoubtedly indistinguishable from other young women of her time and place. But, in an instant, God broke into the normalcy of her life in a way that left her—and us—forever changed.

Our Lady of Expectation
(15th century)

For Mary, the Annunciation initiated a period of waiting. She was waiting as an expectant mother and also waiting for events around her to unfold: would Joseph reject her? What was to become of her and her unborn child? We can only wonder what her parents and family thought about the news of her pregnancy and can imagine what the local gossip might have been. But, we can also trust that Mary’s waiting was filled with promise, because she carried within her womb the One who was the fulfillment of generations of promises and hopes: “People who have to wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. They have received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow” (Henri Nouwen, from the essay, “A Spirituality of Waiting”). This kind of waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. Rather, it is a movement from something to something more.

As I reflected on the Readings for this Sunday’s liturgy, I was reminded that, for centuries, a sign of God’s covenant promise to Israel was the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was an icon of God’s presence, a reminder that God was with his Chosen People, accompanying the people as they wandered through the desert and fought to claim a home and identity (cf. Numbers 10:35-36). Mary became the new tabernacle, the new, living Ark of the Covenant, who carried God within her. In Mary, God was now present in a person, in a heart. And, just as David danced before the Ark of the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14), we can think of John the Baptist, still in Elizabeth’s womb, leaping for joy because the Lord had come.

On the Second Sunday of Advent I reflected that this season had been an underwhelming time for me. As I have been distracted by the unrest in our communities, our nation, and so many parts of the world, I let myself lose sight of the fact that our Advent (and Christian) hope is not for something but, rather, in someone. And so, my prayer has changed. And these final “O” Antiphon days are a powerful time for each of us to remember that, as we continue to watch and wait, the Promised One, Emmanuel, is already with us, waiting for us to welcome him into our hope-filled hearts.

Mary teaches us how to receive the Word of God, whose coming we to celebrate at Christmas. As Saint John Paul II observed, “She exhorts us, first of all, to humility, so that God can find space in our heart, not darkened by pride or arrogance. She points out to us the value of silence, which knows how to listen to the song of the Angels and the crying of the Child, not stifling them by noise and confusion. Together with her, we stop before the Nativity scene with intimate wonder, savoring the simple and pure joy that this Child gives to humanity” (Angelus, December 21, 2003).

A Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Advent +
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
Your grace into our hearts,
That we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
Was made known by the message of an Angel,
May by his Passion and Cross
Be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)




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