“BEHOLD, I AM THE HANDMAID OF THE LORD. MAY IT BE DONE TO ME ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD.”
- A Persian legend runs that a certain king needed a faithful servant, and two men were candidates for the office. He took both at fixed wages, and his first order was to fill a basket with water from a neighboring well, saying that he would come in the evening and see their work. After putting in one or two bucketfuls, one man said, “What is the good of doing this useless work? As soon as we put the water in one side it runs out the other.” The other answered, “But we have our wages, haven’t we? The use is the master’s business, not ours.” “I am not going to do such fool’s work,” replied the other. Throwing down his bucket, he went away. The other man continued until he had exhausted the well; looking down into it he saw something shining—a diamond ring. “Now I see the use of pouring water into a basket,” he cried. “If the bucket had brought up the ring before the well was emptied, it would have been found in the basket. Our work was not useless.” Christians must believe that their divine Master knows what is best, and obey his commands, and in due time they will know and understand.
Today is the fourth and the last Sunday of Advent before Christmas, and all the four candles in the Advent wreath are lit. Indeed we are at the threshold of Christmas and the birth of Baby Jesus is now imminent. In a few days’ time we will be celebrating the memory of that great event. Throughout Advent, we have heard of God’s promise to send a Liberator – a Savior into the world; today, we catch a glimpse of how that is to be accomplished and to some extent, we can associate with the greatest joy of the Blessed Virgin Mary who awaited the coming of Baby Jesus into the world.
The Scripture Readings of today speak about the preparations that God made for his Son to be born among us and as one of us. In the First Reading from the 2nd Book of Samuel, King David wishes to build a house for God better than his own. He seeks some way to give thanks to God for all the blessings he received from him. But God has not finished filling his life with blessings. In the Second Reading from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul speaks about the mystery of salvation about to be revealed and marvels at the divine plan and gives glory to God. In the Gospel Reading from St. Luke, we have the familiar passage of the Annunciation where the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that she has found favor with God and announces the divine identity of the child whom Mary is about to conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“YOUR HOUSE AND YOUR KINGDOM SHALL ENDURE FOR EVER!”
In the history of Israel, God’s presence was manifested in the Ark of the Covenant, a sacred wooden box which contained the two stone tablets given to Moses. This was carried in their travels and their battles as a reminder that God was with them. This was kept in a sacred tent. In the First Reading of today we hear that after God finally gave him rest from his enemies, King David was bothered that while he lived in a house of cedar, the Ark of God dwelt in a tent. He was mulling the idea of building a temple where the Ark of God would be kept. So he told the Prophet Nathan of his plan to build a house for it. At first Nathan agreed with him, but then God revealed contrary will to Nathan and sent him back to tell David that He instead would establish a house for him. God’s promise to David is a spectacular one – “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.” i.e. a dynasty that will be eternal! In subsequent generations this prophecy became the bedrock of Messianic hope, sustaining the Jewish people at times when their very existence seemed threatened. In making this promise, the Lord rehearses the history of His dealings with David, reminding him of the many ways that He has saved him in the past, and reassuring him of divine protection for his heirs in the future.
The First Reading also provides the Old Testament background to the Gospel Reading of today by telling the story of how it came about that God promised to David an eternal kingdom.
OBEDIENCE OF FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST:
Today’s Second Reading is the concluding passage of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. He speaks about the mystery of salvation manifested through the prophetic writings. He says that this was God’s plan all along. God spiritually disposes the minds of the believers and strengthens them who hear the proclamation of Jesus, he who revealed God’s mystery that was kept secret for centuries and which has now been revealed. This knowledge and understanding of the divine wisdom of God’s mysteries through Jesus Christ was made known to all nations according to the divine will of God, to bring everyone in obedience to God through faith in Jesus Christ. For the eternal glory belongs to Jesus Christ. In other words, St. Paul is saying, listen to and obey the words of Jesus Christ, for through Jesus Christ, the salvation of mankind has come to all nations and through him, we find the complete fulfillment of God’s promises to the prophets.
THE VIRGIN MARY, OUR MODEL OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP:
The Gospel Reading for this Fourth Sunday of Advent tells the familiar story of the Annunciation. It is a part of St. Luke’s infancy narrative. St. Luke wished to indicate the divine origin of Jesus, as well as to show how his birth was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and expectations. Particularly, in today’s Liturgical context, we see the fulfillment of the promise made to David in the message of the angel to the Virgin Mary.
In the Annunciation narrative we hear the angel, Gabriel by name, appearing in private to a young girl of Nazareth, the Virgin Mary, betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David with the greeting, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” The first thing we notice here is that the initiative for the entire event comes from God and all that happens to Mary comes with pure gratuitousness from the hands of God, for she has found favor with God. We are also given the clues that this is not going to be like anything traditionally associated with the coming of the Messiah. The woman chosen for God’s great work is a very young unsuspecting virgin who comes from a town not even mentioned in the Old Testament. Her parents had arranged her marriage with Joseph. Though the two were already engaged, God had another plan for Mary. Indeed that is the way God works. The angel’s statement that the Lord was with Mary, signifies that the Messianic age has dawned and implies a special position of importance for her. Much more than God’s presence with King David, the Lord is literally with her. She is ‘The Ark of the New Covenant’, beyond all reasonable expectations. It is no wonder then that this simple girl was greatly troubled. She pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel Gabriel understood her perplexity and spoke her name for reassurance. He then proceeded with the promise, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, …. and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Clearly, we see here that when St. Luke pictured God’s announcement through the angel Gabriel to Virgin Mary of the coming birth of Jesus, much of what he wrote had to do with the Prophesy. The child is to be heir to the promises made to David, but his is a dynasty that surpasses every human expectation. Further, St. Luke’s pointed statements regarding Mary’s virginity underline the divine, miraculous character of this birth. Moreover, St. Luke no doubt intends to have the story of the annunciation to Mary to have a Christological meaning, indicating the centrality of Jesus Christ by revealing his unique character, his true identity as the Messiah and the Son of God. Mary has the new dignity that she is chosen to become the Mother of God.
Now, in the Jewish tradition to bear a son was a blessing from God. But for Mary the circumstances were hardly reassuring. She realizes that humanly speaking it makes no sense. She has not been with a man. So, she asks for a clarification as to how it would happen. The angel’s response is that all will be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that was present at the first creation would now bring the new creation in her. Nothing is impossible with God.
With little else to go on but the word of the angel Gabriel, Mary freely accepted the fact that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah and surrendered herself to the will of God. Mary listened and humbly answered the invitation, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Just as God had freely chosen to give, Mary had also freely chosen to accept. And with her simple ‘Fiat’, her unhesitating ‘Yes’, Mary changed the course of salvation history forever. God becomes one of us. God is present among us.
Today, we are standing right at the front door of Christmas and before we enter, Mary has been presented to us, this last Sunday of Advent to be our model. Let us follow her example of faith & holiness, humility & simplicity, obedience & surrender to the will of God, as we await the coming of our Saviour into the world and into our lives. Obviously, God’s choice of Mary to be the Mother of His Son was special. So was her response, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” But God has also chosen all of us for something special. For this, like Mary, we are also favoured. What has been our response to God’s choice of us? Consequently, like Mary, we are challenged to use our freedom and respond with our ‘yes’ to God’s call. And this is the Good News of today.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.