The Annunciation: what a wonderful story, so unexpected and so unpredictable! Here is a nation waiting forever for the promised one but no one expected it to happen like this, least of all Mary. Here we have a God on bended knee pleading before Mary and waiting for her ‘yes’. If John the Baptist dominates the early part of Advent, it is Mary the mother of Jesus who comes centre stage now. Furthermore today’s readings serve to highlight Mary’s role by contrasting it with David. It’s a little ironic that David should have imagined that he could do something for God. It seems that his success as king went to his head and he forgot his humble origins as a shepherd boy. In Mary, on the other hand, we see an Israelite who is fully aware of whom she is before her God and it is this humility that allows her to say ‘yes’. The promise made to David in the grandeur of his palace centuries before would now be fulfilled because an ordinary girl in ordinary surroundings has an extraordinary openness to her God.
But who was this Mary? In spite of all the volumes written about her over the centuries, the Gospel tells us nothing of her background or personality, not one word about her piety or righteousness. We know nothing more than that she was a young woman, engaged to a man named Joseph and living in a little known town 90 miles from Jerusalem. The only thing that singles her out is that God was with her, that she had found favour in God sight. It was all God’s doing.
What then was her role? It is as simple and profound as the Latin word fiat (may it be done). That is the same word we find in Genesis 1 when God creates the world. Fiat lux is “Let there be light.” Here we have Mary echoing the creative word of God, making possible what had never happened before. Mary, of course, was totally surprised by this amazing message and did not consider herself capable of carrying out the angel’s prediction. It was only after hearing that God would overshadow her and the Holy Spirit come upon her did she pronounce her “fiat”. She spoke not from a position of ability, but of availability. This can only be consoling for us all. If it all depended on our ability then few of us would measure up. But God is not asking for our ability but our availability. Thus whether we are well or sick, able-bodied or confined to a bed, we can always be available to the Lord.
From the moment Mary spoke those words her life was changed forever. She had given herself over to God’s designs in a way that no other person had ever been asked to do. Her very life was to be turned upside down. As for the future, she could never have anticipated that things would turn out as they did. Here we have the crux of the matter. God invites humanity to be available and it’s not for us to wonder how things will pan out. We are simply to cultivate our attentiveness and generosity so that we can hear well and be open to what God hopes to do through us, even though it may seem unimaginable, much less fit our plans.
Let’s get back to David and the first reading. He conceived a great scheme to build a temple. It sounded like a great plan, a generous act of public praise, and the prophet Nathan told him to go for it. But, after a nighttime encounter with God, Nathan returns to tell David, “I was wrong and so were are you.”
David’s plan was a great one, but that was the problem: it was his plan, not God’s. David had to abandon his plan for God’s earthly dwelling because it was not big enough. God could not be confined in a structure of stone and cedar. The God who had accompanied Israel through the Exodus willed to remain present through living people, through anyone who would hear the word of God and say “fiat”.
What do these readings say to us as we prepare for Christmas? Both of them remind us of God’s desire to dwell in the midst of humanity. Throughout the scriptures, God has sought out people with humility and courage to hear and respond to his word and through them his saving will has been made known. In this young woman from Nazareth the human response to God finds its perfect model. Luke presents Mary as the woman of faith. By her openness to the Spirit of God she opens the way for God to come into the world and that is the way Luke presents discipleship. The Annunciation, however, is not a once off event. God is daily announcing to us, calling on us to receive his Son into our hearts. Thus God will be at work in the world wherever the followers of Jesus leave themselves open to the work of his Spirit in an attitude of faith.
Contemplating Mary and David, the simple woman and the powerful king, we see that the key to discipleship, the essence of being servants of God, lies very little in the plans we make or the gifts we would give to God. The message for us, as for Mary, is that God continues to want to do what has never been done before, and that can happen only to the extent that we are willing to listen to the unexpected and to put our very selves at the disposal of God’s plan. Then we can pray the prayer Mary very likely taught Jesus: “Thy will be done.”
Sunday, 21st December 2014