Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Advent, 21st December 2014, entitled “The Annunciation” by Rose O’Connor and Patrick Sullivan.
Fourth Sunday of Advent – Year B – Lectio divina on Lk 1, 26-38
The annunciation of the birth of Jesus does not concern only Mary. The story is presented to us today as an example of how to welcome God when he comes. It is not enough for God to decide to become incarnate. Unless he finds people who will trust him completely and offer him their whole life, it will be difficult for him to find a home in them. To prepare for the imminent birth of the Son of God, without taking into consideration the responsibility of the believer, would be simply foolish. God is determined to come close to his people and he is in search of people who will believe and will lend him their entire life. It is not enough to know that God has a plan for the salvation of his people or that God will come among us. If we believe that God wants to become man, we cannot ignore this gospel. Instead, like Mary, we must abandon our own plans and allow God to fulfil his plan. Mary is a reminder to us that for God to be born among us, he must find people who believe. God wants to offer us salvation and wants to become son of a woman, but he will be conceived only by someone who accepts him unreservedly, and without any objections.
 The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I know not man?”  And the angel said to her, “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, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For with God nothing will be impossible.”  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
I. Read: understand what the text is saying and focus on how it says it.
The episode of Nazareth constitutes a literary and theological unit. It tells the story of Mary’s vocation and is, at the same time, the announcement of the salvation that God is about to bring. Mary knew of God’s desire to save his people at the same time that she knew that God was counting on her. The annunciation of the birth of Jesus coincided, then, with Mary’s invitation to become the Mother of God. God’s plan for the salvation of his people coincided with the vocation of Mary, God’s chosen one.
The formal structure of the account is clear: introduction of the people involved (Lk 1,26-27), appearance of the angel and the virgin’s reaction to his greeting (Lk 1,28-29), the angel’s message and Mary’s question (Lk 1,30-34), the angel’s response and Mary’s assent (Lk 1,35-38a). The angel’s entrance (Lk 1,26a) and his departure from the scene (Lk 1,38b) mark the beginning and the end of the episode – an episode in which he always had the initiative and Mary responded gradually, first in contemplation (Lk 1, 29), then with a question (Lk 1,34), and finally with her consent (Lk 1,38). Three times the angel revealed the divine plan to Mary and three times she responded. Each further revelation brought a deeper acceptance.
It is significant that the account is in the form of a dialogue or conversation. Vocation is an ongoing dialogue in which the initiative comes from God. It is he who chooses a virgin and sends her his messenger, in order to give his people a saviour. The conversation does not end until all resistance to the call has been overcome. The one who does God’s will belongs to God as his son or daughter.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life.
In Luke’s account Mary is described as a model of collaboration with God who sought a way of becoming incarnate. From her dialogue with the angel we can learn the response God would like to find in us in order to become close to us in these days. Our life of faith is a struggle to prepare for our face-to-face encounter with God. If we are preparing for our own personal experience of the birth of Son of God, we should take seriously what God wants to say to us, what he is proposing to us, and what he is willing to grant us. If we declare ourselves ready to accept his will, it is certain that he will let us know that he is close to us, and what he wants of us, and he will ask for our collaboration. Today as in the past, the God who was born of Mary wants, indeed needs, collaborators if he is to be present in our world among his people.
The God of Christmas needs people who believe in him, and listen to him, when he makes known his plan to become incarnate. This could well be our first point for reflection and maybe also a starting point for personal prayer. The God of Mary is still looking for people who will give him their attention and their lives. Taking this divine need seriously can lead to an unexpected surprise, as it did for Mary: God needs me if he is to enter my world! It can lead also to an alluring proposal: why not trust him and allow him to enter through us into the lives of those near and dear to us? A God like this who has need of us, who has lowered himself to our level, deserves our trust. A God who asks permission to enter our lives, and who depends on us to come close to others, is to be respected and trusted.
Because Mary said ‘yes’ to God, we today can celebrate his becoming one of us. What would God not be ready to do for us today, for every one of us, if we accepted his will and allowed him a more prominent space in our lives? God who wants to become incarnate in our world continues to look for believers who are ready, like Mary, to allow him into our lives sincerely, totally, and with all our hearts. With the example of Mary we should ask ourselves if there is something that needs to change in our Christian way of life to make it easier for God to come and meet the people of today. Looking at Mary’s response should make us wonder why God does not become present among us, and why we do not become a bridge for him to become present in our world.
Our world is becoming progressively more godless. Why is it that, even in the hearts of believers, the presence of God is silenced, his voice and his demands are not heard? We will all celebrate Christmas, perhaps spending far more money than is necessary, but few will ask themselves the meaning of this great feast. The best sentiments that come to us during these days may well be sincere, but often do not last beyond the Christmas season. Undoubtedly there are good reasons for our joy and happiness. The problem is that we often fail to find reason for joy in the fact that God has become man in order to be nearer to us. Celebrating Christmas without finding delight in God’s decision to become man is missing the point.
We need peace, reconciliation and love. We need God if we want peace, reconciliation and love to be lasting and definitive. It seems that at the present time our need is greater and our desire for familiarity more intense. We Christians should not stifle this desire nor underestimate our need for intimacy. The good will that is present in these days, even if somewhat diffused, and the realization that we could be a bit better than we are, or that it would be good for us to become more human, undoubtedly come from God. In becoming human like us he gave us a very good motive for wanting to be better human beings.
More than ever before, our world has need of humanity, fraternity, mutual respect and trust. Where do we stand, we who believe in the God-man? Do we continue to avoid every sign of trust and every test of our humanity? Do we stifle within us the urge to build a relationship with our neighbour? Do we remain at a distance affectively from the people we meet every day, or, worse still, do we distance ourselves from the people who live around us? How, then, can we celebrate this feast which recalls the decision of God to become a man like us? Believing in a God who became man implies reaching out to our fellow man. It means becoming more human in order to draw closer to God. On the other hand, if we distance ourselves from others, whether consciously or not, we cannot celebrate Christmas as true believers. We celebrate just like all the others without knowing clearly why we celebrate, and nothing will change in our lives.
Today’s Word of God invites us to contemplate Mary. In doing so we realize that to trust God we don’t have to have the most convincing reasons. It is enough to believe for whatever reasons he gives us. His decision to become human like us, to be close to us, obliges us, if we believe him, to give him a place and to make space for him in our daily lives and in our hearts. If we do this, we will become more human, closer to our fellow human beings, as he himself did. Through us God will become closer to the people we live among. Mary’s task – to be the mother of Jesus – is also our task. If we believe, as she did, that God wants to become human, we will be more human towards our fellow humans, and God will be closer to us. We do not have to cease being human to draw nearer to God, because we believe that in Mary God became man. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. May we celebrate it fittingly and well!