Fr. Bill Carroll – The Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 24, 2023
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the LORD; let it be with me according to your Word.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
An old, old prayer calls her the “first and perfect disciple” of Jesus. And old hymn says that “Gabriel’s message does away with Satan’s curse and Satan’s sway.”
Mary shows us the Way. She allows the Word to become flesh. By her “Yes” to God, she gives us an example of the “obedience of faith.” Now, the Son of God is living and growing in her body.
Her story begins in obscurity. She is a young peasant girl from a small town in Galilee. She is likely between thirteen and sixteen years old. Her people have been conquered over and over again by various empires. Now the Romans are there. And yet (for all the humiliations of her People), Mary remembers their proud history. They are precious to God. God has called them to holiness and freedom.
Mary is the humble daughter of a royal priesthood. She is among the poor of the land. She is waiting (and she is longing) for God to speak, after a long “famine of hearing the Word of God.” And then, one day, it happens. An angel appears to her. And he speaks the Word of God to her.
What would that be like? Are God’s messengers obvious? Do they dazzle us with divine beauty and power? Or do they speak to us through the still, small voice within? Maybe God speaks in different ways to different people. Maybe God knows exactly what we need.
Countless artists have pictured this scene. But Scripture is silent on the details. All Luke really tells us is that an angel came to Mary. “Greetings, highly favored one,” he says. “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.”
Then, he tells her not to be afraid. But that is easier said than done. For Gabriel bears tidings of an impossible pregnancy. His words carry with them the possibility of shame, and even violence, back in her village.
And so, Mary must be shaking with fear. But she is also courageous in the Holy Spirit. She is alive with wonder at the new thing that God is doing. “How can this be (she asks), for I am a virgin?”
“The power of the Most High will overshadow you (he answers). Therefore, the child to be born will be holy. He will be called the Son of God.”
But then, something astounding happens. Mary says, “Yes.” And her “yes” changes the world and all human history. Her “yes” makes Jesus possible. “Here am I (she says). Let it be with me according to your Word.” And then, deep within her body, Mary knows the coming of Jesus. She can feel what God is doing to save the world in her very flesh. And so, she embraces God’s promise for all of us. “Here am I (she says). Let it be.”
Her words are like those of other prophets. It’s like what Isaiah said to the LORD when he saw him in the Temple. “Here am I (he said). Send me.” Bravely, Mary puts herself at God’s disposal. Because she is a prophet and a disciple of Jesus, her Son.
Her story is all about God’s grace and our freedom coming together. It’s about what we can do with our lives when we say “yes” to God’s love. St. Augustine says that Mary conceives by believing. Just as God’s invitation comes to her ears by the voice of an angel, so too the Holy Spirit comes into her heart.
God’s grace and our freedom work together. But they don’t work together as equals. God creates us in his image and likeness–so that we can answer his call. God’s invitation precedes and empowers our response.
Mary’s response is complete. She offers her whole life to God. And then, she sings God’s new song of freedom. In the power of the Spirit, she prophesies the Kingdom. For God is here, in the fruit of her womb, Jesus. And, wherever God is, the mighty are cast down; the hungry are fed; and prisoners are set free.
God’s Kingdom is for everyone—especially the “least of these.” It is Good News for this town and this nation (for everyone sitting in these pews). It is Good News for every nation under heaven. It is Good News wherever we are lonely, or hungry, or desperate (wherever we are grieving, in danger, or afraid). It is Good News. It is about God’s mercy, God’s justice, and eternal life. And it is for all people, everywhere.
For God is with us in the flesh. He has shown the strength of his arm. In Mary (and, above all, in her Son, Jesus), God has shown his power to give us life. He has shown his power to set us free–just as he set his ancient People free from bondage.
Today, with Mary, let us claim God’s promise. Let us rejoice and sing God’s praises. Let us surrender our lives to God’s love. With Mary, we say, “Yes!” Yes, Lord. I will follow.
Yes, Lord, yes! Let it be!