ADVENT HOMILY DECEMBER 20
Prophecy Fulfilled – Mary’s Fiat – God is With Us
(Is 7:10-8:10; Ps 24; Lk 1:26-38)
How accurate do you think you would be in predicting events seven hundred years into the future?
The readings today, about prophecy fulfilled in Mary, encourage us to be like her and let the Lord of glory enter our lives.
King Uzziah’s reign was in the middle of the 8th century BCE, during which time Isaiah was active as a prophet. So at least 700 years before the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary, here is what he foresaw: “… ‘the virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel,’ that is, God is with us.” And that is exactly what transpired in Nazareth all those centuries later – talk about prophecy being fulfilled to the letter! How could the religious leadership of the Jews, who knew the scriptures so well, miss it, and continue to miss it to this day?
The gospel account of the Annunciation we hear today also makes clear this will be no ordinary birth. This child will be divine: he will be Son of the Most High; given the throne of his ancestor David; reign over Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. If the Jewish religious leadership struggled with the divinity of Jesus, they needed only to refer back to the words of the angel Gabriel and to the role the Holy Spirit played in this conception and birth.
Key to the whole account is the faith of young Mary, who although she did not fully understand just what was happening, found it in her youthful yet mature soul to utter those fateful words, “Let it be done with me according to your word.” Would that we could all say those words with the same level of openness and faith as Mary did.
There is a pattern in our lives – belief in our minds must move deeper into our hearts as faith in a person. That faith in turn must grow into trusting that person. And finally, for our belief to be complete, that faith and trust must move on to become surrender, to let go and place our will and our lives completely into the hands of our loving God.
Step three of the 12 Step program calls for just that: “Made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to God as we understood God.” The late Gerald May, in his book Will and Spirit, speaks of the great gift of our free will and the choice we have been given to be either wilful and stubbornly insist on doing things our own way, or willing and cooperate with God’s grace in doing things God’s way.
The story of a priest and a minister in a small town who were a bit competitive with each other might illustrate. At one point, they were together at a banquet and called upon to speak. The priest acknowledged to the audience their obvious competitive nature but assured the people by saying they were both doing good ministry, the minister in his own way, and the priest in God’s way!
The name, Emmanuel – God is with us – has deep implications for us. Here is how Ron Rolheiser OMI spells that out in one of his articles:
“Flesh in Jesus, as in us, is human, vulnerable, weak, incomplete, needy, painfully full of limits, suffering. Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth into these things, not his removal of them. Christ redeems limits, evil, sin and pain, but they are not abolished. Given that truth, we can celebrate Christ’s birth without in any way denying or trivializing the real evil in our world and the real pain in our lives. Christmas is a challenge to celebrate while still in pain.
The incarnate God is called Emmanuel, a name which means God-is-with-us. That fact does not mean immediate festive joy. Our world remains wounded, and wars, selfishness, and bitterness linger. Our hearts too remain wounded. Pain lingers.
For a Christian, just as for everyone else, there will be incompleteness, illness, death, senseless hurt, broken dreams, cold, hungry, lonely days of bitterness and a lifetime of in-consummation.
Reality can be harsh and Christmas does not ask us to make make-believe. The incarnation does not promise heaven on earth. It promises heaven in heaven. Here, on earth, it promises us something else – God’s presence in our lives. This presence redeems because knowing that God is with us is what ultimately empowers us to give up bitterness, to forgive, and to move beyond cynicism and bitterness. When God is with us then pain and happiness are not mutually exclusive, and the agonies and riddles of life do not exclude deep meaning and deep joy.
However, we need to celebrate Christmas heartily. Maybe we won’t feel the same excitement we once felt as children when we were excited about tinsel, lights, Christmas carols, and special gifts and special food. Some of that excitement isn’t available to us anymore. But something more important is still available, namely, the sense that God is with us in our lives, in our joys as well as in our shortcomings.
The word was made flesh. That’s an incredible thing, something that should be celebrated with tinsel, lights, and songs of joy. If we understand Christmas, the carols will still flow naturally from our lips.”
The Eucharist lives out that name, Emmanuel, for God is truly with us now through his Word, and especially in our communion with the body and blood of Jesus, the Messiah.
May our celebration deepen our faith in this great mystery of God among us, and empower us to let the Lord of glory enter our minds and hearts through our own Fiat in imitation of Mary.