Dec 19, 2015

4th Sunday of Advent : "Blessed are you among women!"

Micah 5: 1-4a
Hb 10: 5-10
Lk 1: 39-45

A few weeks ago the well-known National Geographic magazine published a cover picture and a story that caught the eye of many.  The special issue in time for Christmas was entitled: “Mary – The most powerful woman in the world. Surprisingly this was a story not on geography or science but on faith.  Mary, the mother of Jesus is labeled “the most powerful woman in the world.” That is an extraordinary claim on the part of a magazine more concerned with science and nature than biography. 

As usual, the article is filled with beautiful and moving photos of people and places.  It takes us around the world to well-known places concerned with confirmed Marian apparitions like: Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, Kibeho in Africa and others.  The main focus of the article I found very moving.  The journalist describes the effect of Marian belief on people and culture and allows the reader to make up their own mind as to its value.  For those of us in the Catholic world we find such writings on Mary comforting and inspiring.  For our other Christian brothers and sisters of various traditions it may be a bit of a stretch.  Yet, those of the Muslim faith honor Mary greatly as her name of "Maryam", the article states, "appears more often in the Koran than the name Mary does in the Bible." 

However, there is no doubt that this simple woman from Nazareth continues to make a significant difference in the lives of many. Her power is not one of politics or the military.  Her power is one of obedience, humility, and faith. 

On this last Sunday of our Advent journey, the Gospel takes us to the scene of the visitation between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth.  It is an encounter of great joy.  Mary, after being visited by the Angel Gabriel with his mysterious request, travels south for several days no doubt, to see her much older cousin Elizabeth after hearing that she in her “old age” has conceived a child for the first time.  When they greet each other, the scene is filled with praise and joy to recognize what God has done for them.  Elizabeth rejoices as she addresses Mary: “Blessed are you among women” then refers to her young cousin as the “mother of my Lord.” It certainly does shine a bright light on this simple young maiden from a tiny obscure village in the north of Israel. It does indeed make her the privileged woman among all others. 

But, this moment is more than just a meeting of two ancient persons who would have never been known if it were not for their choice by God.  As we draw close to Christmas it reminds us of the mystery of God’s work in sending his Son among us. 

First, God chose to do this.  He didn’t have to do it.  That being said, being the Creator of all things he could have chosen to come anyway he would like to.  He chose to come in smallness.  Not through great and influential people in the large and dominant Empires of the ancient world.  He chose a different course; that of the simple and obscure.  Instead of Jerusalem or Rome he came to an unknown girl in the tiny village of Nazareth. 

Secondly, he could have come as an adult in great splendor.  Instead, he came in silence as an unborn child.  What is more silent or defenseless or sacred than an unborn child?  He chose to enter human history at a specific time and place as privately as any of us did.

Third, he came to the ancient world through women who at the time were considered to be powerless and hardly influential in a significant way. So, this is a God who entered our lives in a fully human way through a simple mother who became, because of her cooperation with God’s strange request, “blessed among women.” So, the power which Mary has is the willingness to submit her will to a much greater force.   

Finally, he came not to judge or condemn or destroy which would be an obvious misuse of power.  He came to invite, to heal and to forgive.  To gather back together what was scattered and broken.  All of this was made possible through the “yes” of this simple girl named Mary.  She isn’t just a footnote or an afterthought or a temporary biological means to become a human being.

The bottom line is that Mary stands during this Advent season as a direct link of how God freely chose to come among us – as one like ourselves. She is a maternal image for all of us and directly leads us to her Son. This coming Christmas season, we recognize his place as center in our lives in our daily walk, in the Eucharist we share and in his word but as a family, God has given us a mother who is a model for every Christian disciple.   

The Geographic article has an interesting insight when it quotes a student of theology named Maria Garcia who wrote: “Mary brings us to Jesus, who is the light of the world, just as Jewish mothers light the Shabbat candles. ‘We see the relationship of Mary with us isn’t just any relationship – it’s sacred.’”  

Pour forth, we beseech you , O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may be his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection. 
Who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Sunday)