On this 4th Sunday of Advent, our attention is directed towards the Blessed Mother. However, in order for us to benefit spiritually from focusing on her inner attitude as the best disposition to have not only on Christmas Day but throughout the year, we must shed two concepts that are embedded in our minds and hearts. We must contemplate the Gospel passage (Luke 1:26-38) and pretend that we do not know the so-very-happy ending of Salvation History; and we must remove forcefully from our Western minds all images that we have accumulated about the Annunciation of the Blessed Mother.
To do so, I have read up considerably on the topic on hand (mostly from John Pilch, a famous biblical scholar) and this is what remains in a stripped-down version of the beginning of the Incarnation, of God assuming human flesh in the womb of Mary.
Miriam is a young Hebrew girl barely in her early teens, and, being alone, she is confined to the inner part of her parents’ home; her virginity protected by the adult males of her household on the outer part of the house. She could be outside in the men’s world that envelops her, but she could do so only accompanied by other women and/or prepubescent children.
One day, the quiet of her prayer-filled soul is suddenly shattered by a supernatural presence. The gospel speaks of the Archangel Gabriel visiting her from on high. However, we know from our catechism classes that angels are pure spirits; they are invisible and incorporeal. It could be a voice that Miriam hears in the depth of her heart. Or, the Archangel Gabriel assumes visible form, perhaps the one of a young man which would have startled Miriam thoroughly and most deeply.
At any rate, this “heavenly intruder,” in a most gentle and precise fashion, manages to calm her anxieties as he breaks the news to her that Yahweh God, the Almighty has chosen her among all Hebrew women to be the Mother of His only begotten Son. This conception will take place without human seed, but in the power of the Holy Spirit, who will overshadow her in the way He had overshadowed the Arc of the Covenant with His divine presence, many centuries before.
She will give to the Son of God the name Yeshua.
Miriam, obedient as she is to God’s bidding, anyhow, anywhere, anytime, wonders how this is possible without nullifying her betrothal to Yoseph. The answer from the divine messenger is as compelling as it is enlightening: “for nothing will be impossible for God.” Six months earlier, He had indeed cured the sterility of her relative Elizabeth who is now expecting her first child even though past child-bearing age. Consequently, Miriam surrenders her entire being into the hands of her God: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
At this point, she is alone once more. Then the angel departed from her.
Her life has changed dramatically, drastically, incredibly. Troubling thoughts flood her young mind. What to do next? Whom to tell? The whole world is crashing down all around her when she senses that she has conceived in her womb.
Let us not forget that Miriam does not know that her mom Hanna and Yoachim, her dad, had conceived her Immaculate, without any stain of sin, not even original sin.
Nor can she grasp the full implication of being truly full of grace.
The women of Nazareth will be the first ones to notice that she is skipping the obligatory ritual purification prescribed for each month. That will bring unbearable shame on her mother Hanna who had carefully arranged a mutually profitable contract with Yoseph’s mother.
But, a few months later, the men too will notice the obvious and that will bring unbearable shame on her father Yoachim who had sealed the contract with Yoseph’s father; had given nice gifts to him and done favors to her family to secure her for Yoseph.
Were she to try to explain that the child growing in her womb is the Son of God the most high, she would be judged completely insane and so, the inevitable would happen in quick succession. She will be convicted of adultery and stoned to death outside the gates of Nazareth.
My dear friends in Yeshua, in Jesus, who is the Son of Miriam, the Son of Mary, I hope that, whenever we feel trapped, whenever we are crushed by an unbearable weight, whenever we cannot see a way out of our predicament, we might remember the words that helped Mary place unconditionally, totally her life in God’s most caring, most powerful, most gentle hands.
“for nothing will be impossible for God”
Unlike Mary back then, we do know; we live; we celebrate the happy ending of the Story of our Salvation, initiated and carried towards its full completion by God Himself.
With Mary we ought to remind ourselves, especially during the trying times of life, of the promise that God made to King David: Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever. (2 Samuel 7:16)
We are already, and forever, members of that house; we belong to God’s very household thanks to Mary’s total, most courageous adherence to His divine will. May she be always a source of inspiration for every one of us. May she never cease to assist us with her counsel and motherly touch. May she intercede for us so that we, too, may find the serenity and peace of Christmas and enjoy them throughout the year.