It seems very fitting that there are two major feasts of the Virgin Mary in the season of Advent. On December 8th we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which celebrates that Mary was conceived pure and sinless in her own mother's womb. Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe which commemorates Mary's appearance and message given to St. Juan Diego. It is fitting because during Advent we think about Mary's role in bringing the Savior into the world. Her assent to God not only changed history, but helped God to fulfill the promises He had made so long ago. God never breaks a promise, and so when Mary said "yes" she, too, kept that promise for the rest of her life and into eternity. She not only obeyed God by saying yes to serving Him, but she imitated Him by being committed to that promise.
Mary's "yes" to God was not a "once and done" agreement, it was a "once for all" assent. She had to know that when the angel came to her and explained what God was both offering and asking, nothing in her life would ever be the same. Her “yes” is almost shocking to us because it meant that she would forever be serving the Lord in a miraculous way. She is indeed still serving by interceding for us individually and for our world, as we have seen in her appearances throughout history. She became the Mother of us all when she said “yes” to being the Mother of the Lord, Jesus.
Imagine being around 13 years of age with your entire life ahead, hopes and dreams in your mind and heart, and an angel shows up with a huge change of plans. For most of us that would be a really difficult decision because we would realize rather quickly that our life could be taking a rather drastic turn into a world of danger and ridicule. Mary was not like that at all, however. Being completely filled with grace, she was a woman totally attuned to God. Her hopes and dreams had to be of serving God in some way. She did not know previously that she was to be the mother of the Lord or she would not have asked the angel how this was possible. But she had to be prepared to serve Him because she said yes so readily. Luke's Gospel tells us that she was a woman of reflection, that she pondered things in her heart, wondering what they meant. That is a stance of prayer and openness to God. Only one fully turned toward God and used to His presence could say yes to something so incredibly improbable and seemingly impossible to pull off. But she already knew in her heart that if God said it, it would be accomplished. She knew nothing is impossible for God. And she knew God never breaks a promise.
The reality of her situation when the angel Gabriel approached her was that she was legally bound to Joseph because they were betrothed. Unlike our culture in which the engagement is not legally binding, in the Jewish culture of that time if one was betrothed one was already legally bound. This is why Joseph would have had to divorce her if he had wanted to. She knew that it would appear to him as if she had not only betrayed him, but that she had broken their legally binding agreement. In addition, Mary had to know that not only could she face death as an unwed, pregnant woman, but that when this child was born there would be many challenges. What was her role to be? How does one raise God's Son as one's own? How does one live in a world expecting a Messiah, knowing He was your son, and keep this quiet? Or was it her job to make Him known? And so on.
Mary was so radically attuned to God, however, that there was no doubt in her mind that God would accomplish His desires in the task He gave to her. She turned her questions over to God and let Him lead, just as a dancer lets her partner lead. When the angel came to her, the Gospel says she was startled by his greeting: "Hail, favored one." This tells us that she was very humble; she had no idea she was so pure and sinless. She pondered the meaning of these words the minute he spoke them. The angel explained her role and then she asked how this was to be since she had never been with a man. This was not a faithless, unbelieving question. Rather, it was an inquiry as to how she could better understand what she needed to do so she could cooperate with God's plan. Once she heard that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and that she would bear God's own Son, she said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38) Mary did not know what was to come any more than we know what is to come tomorrow in our own lives, but Mary placed her entire life, and that of the world, in God's hands. It would be so for all eternity.
Mary became the first tabernacle and the first disciple of her Son. She had Jesus within her womb for nine months; I can hardly imagine the intimacy of that. It is intimate for any mother to have a child within her womb, but imagine if your child was the Son of God! It should be no wonder, then, that she was His first disciple. Her first response to the angel's message, which included the announcement that Mary's older cousin Elizabeth was also pregnant after years of barrenness, was to leave immediately to enter into service. Mary made haste, the Scripture tells us, to go into the hill country to serve her cousin until the birth of Elizabeth's child.
What do we learn from all of this? There is so much, but I will highlight a few things. First, both women teach us to be trusting in God, who never breaks a promise. God promised Mary and Elizabeth that they would have miraculous births, and they both trusted implicitly. We need to ask for the grace of trusting God this radically, too. Things did not look bright for Mary to have this child, and yet, she trusted and God protected her (and her husband Joseph as well.) We also learn that service with humility is an important characteristic of a disciple. We do not serve to be noticed and we do not serve for reward. We serve because we love. We serve because we love God and the ones whom we are serving who are children of God. We serve out of gratitude for what we have; we share what we have with others because we acknowledge that we have abundance. We share out of compassion because we know that those in need are suffering in some way. We serve because it is the way of the disciple of Christ.
We also learn that prayer and reflection are of the greatest importance. God wants an intimacy with us. He wants to be borne within us, (pun definitely intended). He wants us to make room in our hearts for Him because He wants to love us. You see, Mary and Elizabeth let God love them. That is what being overshadowed with the Holy Spirit is all about. Mary was filled with Love, who is God, to the fullest extent possible, such that she became pregnant with Love. Elizabeth became pregnant in the natural way, but it was a miracle for one so advanced in age. Her heart was open and so she was filled with the Spirit in her heart and soul, such that she could recognize the presence of God no matter what. God wants us to have that same stance, not because He wants something of us necessarily, but because He wants to give us something of Himself! He is giving, not taking. And being filled with God, we cannot help but respond because love begets more love. It overflows.
This Advent let us ask to be like Mary and Elizabeth who were able to serve God in all the ways they were asked to do so. May we be like Mary who offered her love and service without reserve, trusting that God would provide all we need to get it done! May we allow God to take up residency in our hearts, so we might bear Him within ourselves in a new way! May we say yes to His offer of love and intimacy with Him so that we may know Him more deeply! This Advent may we prepare to give ourselves as gift to God who gives us everything we can imagine (and that which is beyond imagining) in the gift of salvation, which is born anew at Christmas, Jesus Christ the Lord! Let us continue to meet in the quiet stillness of Advent, in the depths of the heart of the Lord. Advent peace and blessings!!
The icons accompanying this post were all written by Rev. William Hart McNichols. The top icon is called Mary of the Magnificat and you can find it at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=269
The icon in the middle of the page is called
Mother of the Incarnate Word and can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=125
The icon at the bottom (to the left) is called Mother of God Waiting in Adoration and can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery.php?action=viewPicture&id=398
These icons and all of Fr. Bill's icons can be found at his website: http://www.standreirublevicons.com. You can purchase cards, plaques, and giclee prints of any of his works if you would like. Contact information is on his website. Remember, I do not receive any financial gain from promoting the icons of Fr. Bill. He is a dear friend and a gifted artist/iconographer. I simply love his work and love sharing it.
Heart Speaks to Heart