Today’s Gospel sets the scene for the birth of Jesus. Mary was to be married to Joseph. In the meantime, the Angel had appeared to Mary, she had said her YES to God. Mary was wrapped in mystery; in something she humbly accepted as being from God, and something she could not totally understand. Her role, the role of the humble servant, was to obey, and leave it to God to take care of the details. I think that it is important at this stage for us to unravel the true meaning of obedience as seen in Sacred Scripture. Obedience comes from the Latin word obedientia, which, literally means, “To listen, to attend” or in a more picturesque way of explanation: “to hold one’s ear against”, like that of a Doctor listening to a patient’s heartbeat through a stethoscope. This kind of listening is often attributed to that of a Prophet. It is listening with the whole body and mind, when one really wants to know what to do, or what road to take. It is also an attention to the inner stirrings of the Holy Spirit within the Temple of our being…within that stillness, we can gaze attentively at the signs and words of God addressed to us…not so much our words to God, but God’s words to us:
“Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:9)
Let us get closer to the great mystery that Mary was faced with….’Do not be afraid’ the Angel said, “you have won God’s favor’. Mary knew her place before God; she belonged to a group of people known as the Anawim or ‘the poor of the Lord God’ or ‘ the faithful few’, who longed to see God’s saving hand rescuing His people once again, like the days of old in Egypt and Babylon. Mary embodied true humility before God, and she nurtured that extraordinary gift of spiritual poverty, which moved her to thirst and hunger for God. Here we see the fundamental ingredients for real Scriptural listening-for us today!
This poverty of spirit and humility, as lived in Mary’s life is a very desirable characteristic for us to aspire to. However, its opposite often blurs our vision and desire, and can anaesthetize our feeling and our ability to be compassionate and loving. In Our Lady’s case, she responded to the needs of her ageing cousin Elizabeth, whose name in Hebrew means: – God is fullness! Hence Mary, Joseph, Zachery and Elizabeth lived out poverty of spirit, and humility, and their YES to God giving us the example of a total response to God’s invitation.
The opposite of poverty of spirit and humility, is pride! This can be so destructive to self and others, and its expressions are obnoxious: like arrogance, haughtiness, aloofness, disdain, sarcasm, negativity, and pompous power-driven exhibitionism etc. In the case of Mary and Joseph, they did not actually do anything. They said their YES, and left the doing to God. Here we can also see the ‘flip side’ and implication of their YES… namely not wanting or desiring to be in control of the present or the future. Their poverty of spirit enabled them to be free and open to the surprises that God had in store for them. Perhaps a worthwhile personal motto could well be: – ‘Listening to God’s truth in humility’.
As we are virtually on the ‘Eve’ of Christmas, perhaps our desire could well be the renewed development of our personal and community obedience to God, and thus be tuned to His nourishing Word through our poverty of spirit. ‘God’s greatest gifts fall into the hearts that are empty of self’. (St.John of the Cross)
The Christmas message in a nutshell: We celebrate the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ once in history, now in mystery, and again in glory. Advent preparation enables us to understand more intensely the Word becoming flesh, our Mission, and the fulfilment of the Lord’s Prayer……………….For Yours is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen