We are nearing the end of our Advent journey as we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Advent today. We have heard from different prophets and messengers during Advent, helping us prepare a path for the Lord in our lives and in the world. We heard from prophets like Isaiah and John the Baptist. Today, we hear from two special prophets – the Angel Gabriel and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Throughout these weeks of the holy Advent season, we talked about how we are called to use this holy season of preparation to bring joy and hope and renewal into our lives. The Gospel of the Annunciation is a fitting message for us today of this last Sunday in Advent.
What insight can me derive from the Annunciation that we can use to help us on our journey? First, we need to realize that today we look at Advent and the Christmas story knowing how it is all going to turn out. We know that it is going to be a story that changed the world in its day and continues to change our modern world today. However, Mary didn’t know how things were going to turn out. In fact, she is troubled by the Angel has to proclaim to her. Even so, Mary listens to what he had to say and she pondered those things in her hearts. A lot of time in our own lives, when we are trying to discern God’s will or when we are trying to decide the right thing to do, we don’t know how things are going to turn out. It is good for us to recognize that we are not alone.
And what about what Mary did, pondering those things in her heart? We live in a world where we feel rushed and where we need an answer as quickly as possible. We don’t want to wait. We don’t want to ponder and reflect and discern. We want it now! Mary and Joseph had plans and dreams, desires and hopes. I am sure that had expectations of how their life together would unfold. And what God was asking of her was putting all those plans and dreams in disarray. After pondering these things in her heart, Mary still answered: How can this be? I have had no relations with a man? How can I be with child? But, after further pondering and further listening, after being told that nothing is impossible with God, Mary answers, Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Behold, I am God’s servant. We all need time to ponder and discern and listen to God. If not, then we can get so caught up in the busy-ness and day-to-day duties of our own lives that we can have a heard time hearing the voice of God in our lives. I know that the Knights of Columbus and the ladies of our parish both sponsor times of retreat each year – and those who partake of those retreat really get a lot out of them. I myself am getting ready to go back to the Camino pilgrimage in Spain the end of November, and I’ll be going by myself this time, not with a group. I want to spent that time in prayer and reflection with God. I am really relishing having that those three weeks on retreat experience with him. And that is something all of us should think about – about the time we spend in prayer and reflecting and in pondering God’s voice calling out to us.
And that leads me to the third insight I take away from our reading today – that God is both immanent and transcendent – that God is both a reality that exists in our world, but that he is also is not confined or defined by our world. I look at the spirituality I am called to as a diocesan priest. I am called to spend time in prayer and study and reflection, to practice the devotions of our faith and to lead the faithful in those devotions. I am called to seek the divine that is beyond my human understanding of it. But I also cannot neglect the reality around me. We are called to follow Christ’s values and justice. We are called to reach out to our neighbor. We are called to proclaim the Gospel in the reality of our world. We are to fully participate in society and read the signs of the times to quote the Second Vatican Council. We are to see God as both immanent and transcendent – not to exclude one to the detriment of the other. In fact, the prayer after communion on Wednesday of this past week, proclaimed that through our partaking of the Eucharist, we pray that we are to wisely judge the things of this earth, and to hold fast to the things of heaven – emphasizing both the immanent and the divine. Remember, we are to welcome the Christ child into our world and into our hearts, the child called Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” The Virgin Mary looked at the reality of her world, but she did not limit God to that reality. And so she was able to understand his call for her.
Mary is an important part of our Advent journey and the Christmas story. But she is so much more. As a convert to Catholicism, the richness of the Marian tradition and theology in our Catholic faith has been an important part of my journey, especially now as a priest. Back in October of 2013, Pope Francis celebrated the final apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s appearance at Fatima. He mentioned today’s Gospel, the way Mary chose to say yes to being the Mother of God, the Mother of our Savior and ultimately our Mother. Pope Francis consecrated the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He asked us to invoke Mary's intercessions, that she may help us to be open to God's surprises, to be faithful to him each and every day, and to praise and thank him for being our strength. May that be our prayer today on this last Sunday of the Advent season and every day.