Receiving from others can be difficult for us. We like to be the givers. To let others give to us is to acknowledge our need, our dependence, our limitations, and that does not always come easy. 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 own 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.
If you were to ask a 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. They chose each other. Why does someone choose to share his or her life with someone else? This is the mystery of human freedom, human preference. 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. 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 Mary’s response to God’s choice of her was not just a matter that concerned her alone. It concerned us all. We all had a vested interest in how she responded. 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. as we read in Luke1:26-38, Mary is initially disturbed and perplexed by the message that the angel Gabriel brought to her. 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.
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 greets Mary, the first thing Mary hears are 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 words.
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 Savior 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 more questions. 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.
The exquisite Annunciation image assures us that with Mary’s consent to that salutation, we are thrust into the mystery of how God works: God comes through the people, not in palaces, and not only in tent and in tabernacle, but now through this woman, Mary. Where is our mystery in all of this? It is in our constant amazement how God works-not always in how or where we understand the plan to be, but where God wants it to be. Like David, it is very wise to let God guide us, and even push us a little, according to divine plan. God offers us the opportunity to help the Lord build up His Kingdom, work that will continue until He returns in glory. Advent serves to remind us of what can be accomplished through us if we prepare the way of the Lord. We, like Mary, must find our opportunities, seize them and not be surprised by the miracles that follow.
We are living in an age when many people find it difficult to make commitments, commitments that require much more than simply giving “lip-service” to accomplish. Would we commit ourselves as fully as Mary? Would we be willing to say YES to God with the same conviction? Would we unquestioningly accept God’s grace?