Year B: Fourth Sunday of Advent
Announcement of the Birth of Jesus
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived* a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
- Notice that Mary did not respond to Gabriel that she was “not worthy” of God’s invitation. Where does the “worthiness question” get in the way of your hearing and freely responding to new invitations from God in your life?
- When have you had an experience of saying; “yes” to God without calculating the cost first? You simply responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
- A central theme of the incarnation story is that God reveals God’s self in unexpected ways. How does this reality help you to pay attention differently, and to notice God’s presence in the unexpected? Can you share an example?
- How have life’s interruptions and challenges in this past year impacted your experience of God? Are you becoming more cynical and fearful, or like Mary, are you leaning into faith with the “Yes” of trust, belief, hope and love?
Luke 1: 26-28
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
Only in Luke’s Gospel do we read the story of the annunciation to Mary. As we noted, Mark’s Gospel has no infancy stories, and in Matthew’s Gospel the annunciation is to Joseph. Only Luke brings Mary on stage and presents her as our model of true discipleship. Mary’s response to God’s call is one of total trust, total self-giving: “Behold, response to God’s call is one of total trust, total self-giving: “behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Although we treasure this story for the picture it gives us of Mary, the primary purpose of the story is to teach something about Jesus. Scripture scholars believe that the stories surrounding Jesus’ birth are Christological stories that developed later in the oral tradition than did stories about Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection or about his mighty acts of power. The birth and infancy stories are responding to the question, “Who is Jesus?” They teach the post-resurrection understanding that Jesus is God’s own son and the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to the chosen people.
In addition to being divine, Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to the chosen people. As Luke begins his story he tells us that Joseph is “of the house of David.” Then, even before Mary says a word, the angel tells her that “the Lord God will give him [her son] the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
To understand this passage we need to know what the Jews understood God to have promised David and his posterity. We read the famous passage from 2 Samuel that contains this promise in today’s Old Testament reading. For now, let us say that David and his descendants understood God’s promise of a kingdom to be a geopolitical kingdom. Luke is writing about AD 85. Jesus has been crucified. The Romans are still ruling in the holy land. So the angel’s words to Mary represent a complete reinterpretation of the meaning of the word kingdom. The kingdom that Jesus has established is not a geopolitical kingdom but a spiritual kingdom. Luke is teaching that all of God’s promises to the chosen people have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, but fulfilled in a very different way than they were expecting.
Learning to say Yes
Fr. Michael K. Marsh
What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a common question. It was probably asked of us in our younger years. We ask it of our children and grandchildren. It is not, however, a question limited to a particular age. It may be common but it is not necessarily simple. Some of us are still trying to answer that question.
I often tell my wife, “I should have been a helicopter pilot.” Last week it was truck driver; me in an eighteen-wheeler going cross country. For years I have thought about being a monk. And here’s the best one. I want to be a rock star. It doesn’t matter that I can neither sing nor play. I want to be a rock star with a band, a bus, and groupies. At one level these are silly fantasies. At another level they point to the assumption that we are responsible for creating the life we want.
For in the beginning, God said and there was. God said let there be light and there was, let there be sky, dry land, earth that brings forth vegetation, fish that fill the waters, a sun and a moon. Let us create humankind in our image and likeness. God said let there be all these things and there was, all those things. Creation is the larger context for today’s gospel, the Annunciation to Mary
God speaks the creative word. Today, however, we remember Mary’s words, “Let it be.” “Let it be with me according to your word.” Mary’s words, “Let it be,” echo God’s words, “Let there be.” It is like an ongoing call and response between God and humanity. God prays creation into existence and Mary says, “Amen. Let it be.” This is not an ending to the creation story but the continuation of creation and the beginning of our salvation. Think about this. God says, “Let there be” and his words bring forth creatures into the world. Mary says, “Let it be” and her words will bring forth the Creator into the world. How amazing is that?
Each one of us is to echo Mary’s words, “Let it be.” Don’t hear this as passivity. This is not a “que sera, sera” attitude. It means we must be vulnerable, open, receptive. It means that we must let down the veils that we think separate us. Mary sees her virginity as a veil of separation. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Not only that, but Mary is weaving a new veil for the temple.
Sacred tradition says that Mary was one of the virgins chosen to weave a new veil for the temple. The veil was the curtain that separated humanity from the holy of holies, the place that God lived. Neither the temple veil nor Mary’s virginity, however, can separate God from humanity. As the Archangel Gabriel declares, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
We all live with veils that we think separate us from God. There are veils of fear, shame, and guilt. Independence and individualism become veils of isolation. Sometimes we are veiled in logic, rationalism, and unable or unwilling to abandon ourselves to the mystery. Often our veils are the life we have created for ourselves.
God looks through our veils to see the “favored one” even when we cannot see ourselves that way. God’s words of possibility speak across our veils announcing that God is with us and that we will conceive within us God’s own life. God is always stepping through our veils to choose us as God’s dwelling place.
“How can this be?” With those words Mary acknowledges that the life Gabriel announces is not the life she was creating for herself. “Let it be.” With those words Mary receives the life God is creating in her. Between “How can this be?” and “Let it be” the impossible becomes a reality, the never before heard of will forever be spoken of, and the veil between divinity and humanity has fallen.
Offer whatever excuses, reasons, and veils you have why this cannot be true for you. Gabriel will tell you differently. “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle B, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.
Reflection excerpt from “Interrupting the Silence” Fr. Michael K. Marsh. Used by permission