We always make the fatal mistake of thinking that it is what we do that matters, when really what matters is what we let God do to us. God sent the angel to Mary, not to ask her to do something, but to let something be done. Since God is a better artisan than you, the more you abandon yourself to him, the happier he can make you.
Fulton J. Sheen Seven Words of Jesus & Mary
This morning, let me begin by asking you a question. How would you feel if one day a complete stranger turned up on your doorstep and told you something strange and unexpected? Surprised? Confused? Afraid? The fact that you are a teenage girl might well intensify these feelings. When you add to this the fact that the girl will conceive a child outside marriage something for which she could be stoned to death, according to the Law of Moses, the Gospel passage which we have just heard should strike us as odd, and unsettling – this isn’t how God is supposed to work, it isn’t supposed to be like this.
It reminds us that biblical accounts of the interaction between God and humanity show us that ours is a God who takes risks. Mary could refuse, she could say no, and human history would be profoundly different. But instead, she says “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” It is through Mary saying yesto God, through her acceptance and obedience, that her son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, will be born.
As we come towards the end of our Advent journey, it is good to go back to where it all started, back to the account of the Annunciation to remind ourselves what we are celebrating at Christmas – the birth of a child, but not just any child, but rather Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is born not in a royal palace, but in a stable, with straw for a bed, surrounded by livestock. While this scene is familiar, it should still strike us as something strange. It confounds our expectations; it isn’t what we think God would do. The greatest news in human history is a teenage pregnancy – something shameful, disgraceful even, is how God saves us.
In this morning’s Old Testament Reading we see King David concerned that he is living in a house built of fragrant cedar wood while the ark of God stays in a tent. Yet while Israel journeyed to the Promised Land, the ark, God’s presence among His people was in a tabernacle, without a permanent home. It reminds us both of a verse in the Prologue of John’s Gospel: (Jn 1:14) ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ the word translated ‘dwelt’ actually means ‘pitched a tent’ which sees the New Covenant prefigured in the Old. God pitches his tent in the womb of a young girl, so that He might come and save us. He continues to dwell with us in tabernacles and aumbries in our churches, where His Body and Blood, under the outward forms of bread and wine, feed His pilgrim people, like manna in the desert, food for our journey of faith, so that we might become what he is, so that we might have a foretaste of heaven – this is what it is all about.
The key to it all, as St Paul reminds the Church in Rome is ‘the obedience of faith’ (Rom 16:26) – Mary listens to God, she says ‘yes’, she trusts, she has faith, and through this faith and trust our salvation is brought about.
So, as we prepare to remember the story of God’s love for humanity, may we continue to be struck by its strangeness, and in the confusion may we remember that it is brought about by Mary’s acceptance, and her trust in God. May we like Mary say yes to God, welcome him into our hearts, and show forth his love to the world.