Fourth Sunday of Advent
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
Psalm 89:2-5, 27, 29
Couldn’t there have been a simpler way for God to accomplish His plan of salvation? Couldn’t the all-powerful and all-knowing God of the universe simply have willed that the debt was paid and avoid thirty-three long years of revealing his plan to us mortals? If God felt it necessary to “go the human route,” couldn’t He have chosen more intelligent, more influential people to execute that plan? Surely, it might have sped up the process of salvation!
In God’s infinite wisdom God chose to begin his long-awaited plan of salvation in the small backwater town of Nazareth. He would send his messenger to a simple peasant girl named Mary, and although she possessed no particular stature in her hometown, and no clear evidence of intellectual acumen, she was recognized as a deep thinker, someone clearly able to listen to those who spoke with her. Mary would often “ponder” the things that were shared with her, and that is precisely what she does with the message of Gabriel. That angelic messenger of the God that Mary worshipped and adored spoke a confusing and nearly unbelievable message, but she was able to truly listen and to ponder. That listening and pondering would lead her to surrendering and cooperating with a plan she could never fully understand: “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
The figure of Mary looms appropriately large on this Fourth Sunday of Advent. It is the shortest fourth week of Advent possible, a mere twenty-four hours. It is Mary, with her betrothed Joseph, who will dominate the infancy narratives proclaimed during this Christmas season. It is Mary who is presented to us today as a model of the perfect Christian. Mary’s ability to listen and to ponder is what sets her apart from so many others who never truly listen, who don’t take the time to ponder. God’s voice was able to be heard by Mary through the numbing poverty of Nazareth, through the political confusion of Roman domination, and through the hardships and difficulties of each and every day. Mary made the effort and took the time to listen to the voice of a personal God revealing to her that she was chosen to play a special role in God’s plan of salvation for all human kind. God never stopped speaking to Mary. Through the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, through the child rearing that seemed “different,” in the absence of those years of itinerant preaching, in the heart-wrenching turmoil that would end her son’s life, God never stopped speaking to Mary, and Mary never stopped listening and pondering.
We need to be good listeners. Although God spoke once and for all in his Son, Jesus Christ, God has not stopped sending messengers to us and speaking to us. It takes an effort to truly listen like Mary. It takes an effort to ponder like Mary. God’s plan of salvation continues to be revealed to us on a daily basis. If we listen carefully we can understand what role God wants us to play in His plan. May our listening and pondering lead us to the generous surrendering manifested by Mary in today’s gospel, in order that with her we might be able to proclaim “be it done to me O God, according to your Word.”
There is a Christmas song played on the Country Christmas music channel by the group Alabama. It is a fitting tribute to all the Gabriels who still speak to us just as Gabriel spoke to Mary. In part the song proclaimed:
When life held troubled times
And had me down on my knees
There’s always been someone
To come along and comfort me
A kind word from a stranger
To lend a helping hand
A phone call from a friend
Just to say I understand
Now ain’t it kind of funny
At the dark end of the road
Someone lights the way with just a single ray of hope.
Oh, I believe there are Angels among Us,
Sent down to us from somewhere up above.
They come to you and me in our darkest hours
To show us how to live
To teach us how to give
To guide us with the light of love!