Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. As we stand on the threshold of Christmas, the Gospel on this last Sunday of Advent puts before us the person of Mary and her role in the dramatic events of the Christmas story. It is the story of the Annunciation that we have heard hundreds of times before and seen in many paintings and images. Here I would like to share a few thoughts on the Annunciation and invite us not just to see the event as having to do only with Mary but reflect how it contains truths for us too.
The first thing to notice is that Mary was a young girl, unmarried and from Nazareth. What this information amounts to is that in the eyes of the world, she was a nobody from nowhere important. Yet she was the one chosen by God. God does not always choose the obvious. He often looks for the lowest, the weakest and the last to do his best work. Look what happened later in Lourdes. Bernadette was an illiterate poor girl and the grotto at Lourdes was the local rubbish dump. Look what happened later at Fatima. It was to three poor shepherd children that Our Lady appeared with a message for the world. They were the ones chosen. The first shall be last.
The second feature of the story is how God approaches Mary. God takes the initiative, always. His love comes first. His call is addressed to us from outside. Mary’s ‘Yes’ could only be possible because God’s ‘Yes’ came first. God approaches us too with his love and with his call. He asks us to say ‘Yes’ to him in trusting love like Mary. And like Mary, we are called to ‘Rejoice!’ Why? Because we are highly favoured. God’s favour is upon us and his choice of us is assured. So don’t be sad this Christmas. Do not be afraid. Rejoice, for you are God’s beloved and he is with you.
The third feature of the encounter is Mary’s response or ‘Yes’ that was given with those words: ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me’. Our Lady declares herself to be completely open to what God wanted of her, such was her trust in him. With her ‘Yes’ Mary showed herself completely available to serve God’s purposes and not her own. For us, our ‘Yes’ to God can be total but also can be contaminated with some ‘no’. Instead of a total ‘Yes’ we really say ‘Maybe’, ‘Not now’ or ‘We’ll see’. Having a Marian spirituality is to have a different approach. It is to have her openness to do God’s will every day and to be available to the people God wants us to reach and serve. It is to see ourselves as instruments in his hands to do his work, in his name on any given day.
A final feature on the Annunciation is the last brief sentence when we are told that ‘the angel left her’. This line says far more than to declare the departure of Gabriel. It means that Mary was then left to live with the consequences of her ‘Yes’ as she returned to her ordinary and everyday routine. There would be trouble with how Joseph would receive the news and long after the child was born with the threat to his life, his mission and his eventual death on a cross. As she stood on Calvary, I’m sure this day of the Annunciation seemed like a long way off. But still she trusted and believed. Likewise for us, no one said living our faith would be easy, especially in these times. Yet like her, we persevere in our faith and give our total ‘yes’ to God each day, even when it is hard to do so.
What unites all these points from the Annunciation story and indeed from Mary’s whole life is love – her love for God, for us and our love for her: ‘Child, behold your Mother, Mother behold your child’ (John 19:26). United with her in the communion of saints we fall on our knees before the crib as we gaze with amazement on the Christ child born for us once more this Christmas. O come let us adore Him!!