Thursday, December 26, 2013

Mary and Emmanuel: 4th Sunday of Advent

           Three days before Christmas the Church places before us the two most important people in salvation history—Mary and Jesus.
            First, we heard a prophecy from Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”  We saw this prophecy fulfilled in Matthew’s Gospel account a few moments later.  Yet remember, over 800 years elapsed between Isaiah’s proclamation and its fulfillment.  800 years! 
            Who do you imagine when you picture Mary? Often I think of a mature woman—someone who was in her twenties or thirties.  Mary was actually between twelve and fourteen years old—a junior high student’s age.  Like many of you, I have seen many children’s Christmas programs over the years.  It is cute to see the kids play the parts of animals, shepherds, Joseph and Mary.  What hits home for me is that Mary was actually closer in age to the children who play her than to an adult. 
            And Mary didn’t have to say yes.  She was approached in freedom and made a choice.  In the Office of Readings this morning, St. Bernard gave an insightful meditation on the moment after Gabriel approached Mary: “Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise.  Abraham begs it, David begs it.  All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death.  This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet.  It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.  Answer quickly, O Virgin.”  And Mary did—“Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.” 
            This same prophecy gave us a particular title for Jesus—Emmanuel.  Of all the titles he has—Messiah, son of God, son of Man, Christ—we focus on the Emmanuel during Advent.  Emmanuel means, God is with us.  I love this definition.  Note, Emmanuel doesn’t mean God could be with us if we were perfect, or God will be with us when we get to Church more.  God is with us.  He is with the youngest baby and the oldest senior.  He is with you if you are sick or healthy, sad or joyful, suffering or rejoicing.  God is with us.
            We have three days until the momentous nativity of Jesus.  Like Mary, may we always say yes to our Emmanuel.

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