1st Reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16
Psalm 88: 2-5, 27, 29
2nd Reading: Romans 16:25-27
Gospel: Luke 1:26-38
If you were to ask a married couple how they came to fall in love, or asked two good
friends how they came to be friends, they may have difficulty answering and might say
something like, “It just happened.” In one sense that may be true. In another sense it didn’t
just happen. If two people are in a significant relationship with each other, be it marriage
or friendship, it is because they have chosen each other. Why does someone choose one
person rather than another as a spouse or friend? Why does someone choose to share his
or her life with someone else? This is the mystery of human freedom, human preference.
The more significant relationships cannot be forced. Love is freely bestowed by one person
on another; the other freely receives what is bestowed and freely reciprocates, and a new
relationship is born. There is a depth about all that.
If there is mystery in the relationship of one human being with another, even more so in
the relationship between God and us. Why did God choose Mary to be the mother of his
Son? Why this particular woman in this small village at this particular time of human
history? It was the mysterious freedom and preference of God. Yet, there is a difference
between God’s choice of Mary and the choice any one of us might make of another. When
any one of us chooses another to love or to befriend, there is always, of necessity, an
exclusive element to that choice. We choose this person rather than any number of others.
Although we choose several people in the course of our lives in each case our choice of one
God’s choice of Mary was not exclusive in that sense. In choosing Mary, he was choosing all
of us. He chose Mary for all our sakes. God chose her to carry God’s Son on behalf of us all,
because her future child was God’s gift to us all. That is why how Mary responded to God’s
choice of her was not just a matter that concerned herself. It concerned us all. We all had a
vested interest in how she responded. Her response would also be our response. In a sense
we looked to her to make an appropriate response on behalf of us all to God’s choice of us.
The good news is that Mary did not let us down. Although initially disturbed and perplexed
by the message, she eventually surrendered fully to that mysterious choice of God. Having
been graced in this mysterious way, she responded wholeheartedly, “Let it be to me
according to your word.” God freely chose her, and she in turn chose to place her freedom
at God’s service. God’s choice of Mary, and her choice of God in response had the most
wonderful consequences for all of us. She went on to sing, “the Almighty has done great
things for me.” And because of her response to God’s choice, we can all sing, “the Almighty
has done great things for us.” We have all been graced through Mary’s response to God’s
choice of her.
The readings today draw attention to God’s gracious initiative towards us. Their focus is
not what we must do for God but rather what God wants to do for us. In the first reading
David wanted to do something really big for God, no less than to build a beautiful temple as
a house of worship. King David was an achiever who had accomplished a great deal. Yet,
the prophet Nathan says that God did not want the king to build him anything. Rather, it
was God who would do something for David; into the future David’s descendants would
lead God’s people. David had to let go of his great plans and learn to allow God to grace
Receiving from others can be difficult for us. We like to be the givers, the organizers, the
achievers. To let others give to us is to acknowledge our need, our dependence, our
limitations, and that does not always come easy. Maybe we sense that to allow ourselves to
be graced by others is to put ourselves under obligation to them and we are slow to do
that. That reluctance to receive can carry over into our relationship with God.
The heart of the good news is that God is a gracious God who wants to give us all things. As
Paul says in his epistle, ‘God who did not withhold his only Son, but gave him up for all of
us, will also with him give us everything else!’ This is the special time of year when we
allow God to be the God of abundant grace in our regard; it is a time when we come before
him in our need and open ourselves to his gracious love and presence.
Mary’s song of thanksgiving is often called the “Magnificat.” It exposes Mary’s deep
emotions and strong conviction. The first stanza extorts the fruits of faith and of lowly
dependence on the merciful God. God has achieved in Mary lowliness turned into
fruitfulness – that all people will find hope. In her Magnificat God appears as the “Mighty
One”, yet He exercises His power, most of all, in caring for the poor and the needy. The
second stanza insists upon the great reversals of salvation history. One must be in need to
be saved, one must be blind to be given light by God. The conclusion of the Magnificat
gathers up the idea that Mary is the servant of the Lord, the handmaid of the Lord.
In the Magnificat Mary affirms herself, “Yes from this day forward all generations will call
me blessed for the Almighty has done great things to me.” She affirms herself in the
context of her relationship with God, with her Saviour. She has the humility to
acknowledge herself as “his lowly handmaid” as well as blessed. We all need to be
affirmed from the moment of birth until the time of our death. A small child needs to hear
and feel acceptance from his parents, parents from children, friends from friends.
In the second reading we are reminded that affirmation has to do with relationships and
the product of relationships is happiness.
In today’s Gospel Jesus was affirmed by the Magi, by Simeon and Anna in the temple.
When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, God the Father affirmed him as His beloved son. In
the Beatitudes, Jesus affirms the poor, the merciful, the peacemakers, the pure of heart, an
those who suffer persecution for the sake of the Gospel.
A few days before Christmas a woman received a beautiful string of pearls in the mail. She
could only guess who sent the gift. But when she didn’t find any message with the present
she burst into tears. Three times she turned the packet inside out and upside down. But
there was no note, no words, and no message, wrapped up with the gift. What she really
wanted was a card that said ‘You mean a great deal to me. I love you!’ That message would
have meant more to her than the pearls themselves. By contrast, when Gabriel, God’s
messenger, greets Mary, the first thing Mary hears is words of love from God (words made
slightly more explicit here): ‘Rejoice, Mary! The Lord is with you. God has chosen you. You
are special, you are precious, and you are loved.’ God, then, doesn’t leave out the important
On hearing those words of God’s special love for her, Mary can only rejoice. But joy is not
her only response. Here she is, a girl about fourteen, living quietly in an out-of-the way
village of Galilee, far from the rich and famous and the movers and shakers of this world,
and yet hearing those amazing and stunning words from God! ‘What is God up to?’ she
wonders. The gospel could not be clearer when it says: ‘She was deeply disturbed by these
words and asked herself what the greeting could mean.’
The messenger of God reassures her: ‘Don’t be alarmed! Don’t be afraid, Mary! Listen to
what I have to say! Of all women on earth, God has chosen you to be the Mother of the
Saviour of the World!’ But Mary is a virgin and so she asks the perfectly obvious and
reasonable question: ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ The messenger
answers: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover
you with its shadow.’
Mary doesn’t ask any other question. She doesn’t need to. She simply responds freely and
deliberately to the God of surprises, the God who has picked her out for the greatest
mission in the world: ‘I am the servant of the Lord,’ she says, ‘I say “yes” to God. I accept my
part in God’s plans. Let what you have said be done to me.’ From that moment Mary
conceives the child Jesus in her womb. From that moment ‘the Word of God became a
human being and dwelt among us.’ St Augustine comments that Mary first conceives her
child in her heart and only then does she conceive him in her body. Our Preface today
makes the beautiful observation: ‘The virgin mother longed for him with love beyond all
telling’, i.e. with indescribable love.
We are living in an age when many people find it difficult to make permanent
commitments to others, commitments that require life-long love, fidelity, perseverance
and endurance. So it’s particularly appropriate for us to wonder and marvel today at
Mary’s total commitment to God, and to all the changes her pregnancy will bring to all her
plans for the future. What a striking example she is, then, of living that motto for life, ‘Let
go and let God.’ She teaches us to put our faith and trust in God at all times, but especially
in difficult, demanding, and seemingly impossible situations. But she also teaches us to be
people who bring Christ to others, just as Mary set out immediately to bring him to her
elderly cousin, Elizabeth.
Year by year we are painfully aware of how much darkness there is in our world as well as
how much light. In the rituals we have watched on TV for people killed or maimed in
particular catastrophes, we have noticed that grieving people always light candles of
remembrance. Those small pieces of self-consuming wax and flame say that the light in our
world is stronger than the darkness. That is the message too of the lighting of the four
candles today of our Advent wreath. Those candles will burn out, but our commitment as
his followers to be the light of Christ in the darkness of insensitivity and indifference,
ignorance and malice, should never burn out or never be put out.
During the rest of our Eucharist, we can renew our commitment to be that Light of Christ
that drives out the darkness of evil, and especially for those for whom Christmas is more a
time of darkness, sadness, depression and desperation than an experience of light, joy, love
and peace. I’m thinking particularly of people who are homeless, separated, bereaved,
friendless, or abused. At this time of Advent and Christmas they especially need our
commitment to be the light and love of Christ to them. May we, like God, surprise and
encourage them with our loving words and loving care! God bless.