Monday, December 25, 2017

Father Riley's homily from Advent IV, 10am Sunday, December 24, 2017

ADVENT IV - B - 17                     LUKE 1. 26-38

For weeks now, we have been receiving Christmas greetings, via cards, and the playing of Christmas music and carols through loud speakers as we shop for that last minute gift or listening to them on our car radios as we drive around looking for a parking space at the mall.

The many wishes of a Merry Christmas are in themselves an announcement that the day is drawing near when we will celebrate once again the birth of the Savior of the world. Advent is a season of patiently waiting. This morning we light the fourth candle on our Advent wreath in anticipation of our journey to Bethlehem coming to an end, but not quite yet.

There is one more announcement to be made; a birth announcement that comes in today’s gospel. It is a divine announcement delivered by a messenger of God to a young maiden in the village of Nazareth. Her name is Mary. Today the Virgin Mary is our focus.

Mary we are told, has found favor with God, but we are not told how or why. Could it possibly be that God knew that Mary would consent to be the mother of His Son? I have always envisioned the scene of the annunciation as being a routine day for Mary. It started out like any other day.

I can see Mary sweeping and cleaning the house or perhaps involved in preparing a meal. Her day was like any other day until she was not only suddenly surprised by the appearance of an angel, but of his greeting! “Greetings favored one.” What did he mean that she was favored by God and that God was with her?

When the angel announced that she had been, she reacted as any of us would. She did not ask to be chosen. It was only natural that she be somewhat perplexed and not a little afraid. I have often wondered was her fear do to the angels’ sudden appearance or was it the message he brought?  Perhaps it was both.

She listened, as the angel Gabriel not only told her the name of the child she was to bear, more importantly who the child was and what he would become.  His name will be Jesus, Gabriel told her.  He will be great, and will be called the son of the Most High. He will be a king and his reign will be forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.

What could it possibly mean for her to be the mother of God’s Son? What could it possibly mean for the life of the world?

Months later, she would find herself delivering her first-born son in a common manger in the little town of Bethlehem. Some might say a strange place for a “king’s” birth. Once again, unannounced visitors would surprise her. This time it would be a contingent of local shepherds who would uncharacteristically abandon their flocks on the nearby hillside and hurry to the manger to see what the angel had told them was true.

Mary will watch as they kneel in humble obedience before her child, as if they are in the presence of a king. They will tell her and her husband Joseph what the angel told them concerning the child, that he would be the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

Once again, Mary will listen and hold their words in her heart uncertain of what it all would one day mean. At that moment, she would be unable to contemplate the day when she would kneel at the cross and watch her son die a cruel death. That day would come, but for now, she could only ask how what the angel is announcing could be happening to her.

Unlike the old, priest Zachariah, John Baptist’s father, whom Gabriel had announced earlier that he would have a son in his old age and then in his unbelief asked for a sign, Mary simply asks for an explanation.

How can this be since I am still a virgin? The angel gives what looks like a double explanation: the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary, enabling her to do and be more than she could by herself. The power of the Most High will overshadow her.

Mary was given special grace to become the mother of God’s incarnate Self. She is the extreme example of what always happens when God is at work by grace through human beings. God’s power from outside, and the indwelling Spirit within, together result in things done which would have been unthinkable any other way. For with God all things are possible.

We read the stories in scripture where God appears to individuals and delivers His will for them. Other times He sends a messenger to speak for him, like the prophets of old, or in Mary’s case, an angel. When we read them, we say to ourselves “God has never spoken to me. I have never seen an angel.” But can we be so sure?

I can only speak for myself and confess that there have been moments in the past when I have been certain that it was God who was speaking. Oh, not directly, like “hello Gregg, this is God.” But moments and occasions when He sent a messenger who spoke for him and delivered the word I was listening for or pointed me in the direction I needed to take.

Sometimes it was an answer to a prayer. Other times it was a solution to a problem I had been struggling to solve. Always these “announcements” came as a surprise, and I might add were not always delivered by individuals I was acquainted with. Some were total strangers.

Think about it. How many times has God “announced” his will for you? Did you listen? Did you question? Did you give Him your “yes?” Did you, like Mary, simply ask how or were you more akin to the old priest Zachariah and ask for a sign so that you could know for sure that it was indeed God speaking? Faith allows us to ask “how?” Our unbelief always seeks a “sign.”

The only legitimate attitude of man to God is represented in Mary‘s; “let it be with me according to your word.” As always, the divine purpose of God for each of us waits for our “yes” and our cooperation with God’s Holy Spirit so that we too might be filled with God’s grace and enabled to do and be more than we possibly could by our self.

It is the Virgin Mary’s “yes” to God, her humble obedience that has rung down through the centuries as a model of the human response to God’s unexpected vocation. Her “yes” answers the question why God chose her to be the mother of His Son, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

It is Mary we focus on today as we draw near the crèche. It is her example of humble obedience we seek to follow by giving our “yes” to God. AMEN+

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