4th Sunday of Advent: Mary, Woman of Faith

 

To hear today’s homily just select the audio below:

Someone said to me recently, “Why don’t we hear more about Mary in Advent? We hear about John the Baptist and Isaiah the Prophet but why don’t we hear more about Mary, who brought Jesus into this world? She has a special place in God’s plan. “

Well, we do know Mary in Advent and we know her through people like John the Baptist, Isaiah and the people we read about in the scriptures. All the Advent readings, for that matter, help us to understand this woman who has such an important role in the mystery of our salvation. This Sunday especially we see her.

Take our first reading for this Sunday from the Old Testament. King David wonders what he can do for God after all God has done for him. The king is now established in Jerusalem, living in a beautiful new palace of cedar wood, while the ark of the covenant, the sign of God’s presence, is in a tent. So David says, “Should I build God a big house, a place of great beauty where God would dwell and be honored?

The Prophetic Nathan tells David that God doesn’t want to dwell in a building, a place of brick or stone. God wants to dwell with David and his people forever.

Today’s gospel reading goes further: the place of great beauty where God will dwell is in Mary, the mother of Jesus. Through her the Word of God becomes flesh. She, in turn, humbly holds him out and invites us to take him to dwell with us. Our gospel begins:

The angel Gabriel was sent from God

to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,

to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,

of the house of David,

and the virgin’s name was Mary.

And coming to her, he said,

“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

Each word of the gospel tells us something about Mary. God sends his angel to speak to her; God showers her with graces; God wishes to dwell with her, to accept her care and her love as her Child. “Be it done to me according to your word,” Mary answers.

The angel comes to a town of Galilee called Nazareth. “Can any good come from Nazareth?” we hear later in the gospels. Mary’s a young girl, maybe 15 or 16, waiting to get married in this little-regarded town to a man named Joseph. She believes the angel, she accepts the angel’s invitation, with a faith is so unexpected and so great.

She’s young girl of Nazareth. It’s not Jerusalem where the leaders of the people live, the smart people who are supposed to know everything and will later reject Jesus and put him to death.

The gospels show us Mary’s faith in simple terms. She’s not afraid before the greatness of God’s message. She asks very realistically “How can this be?” “The power of God will overshadow you,” the angel tells her. The only sign the angel gives her is that “her cousin, Elizabeth, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Then, the angel leaves her.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.

May it be done to me according to your word,” Mary says.

The angel leaves her. As far as we know, the angel doesn’t return to speak to Mary after that. Mary meets the days as they come. That’s faith, meeting the days as they come, meeting the days often so unknown, so puzzling, yet believing in God who is faithful and never goes back on his word. Mary meets the days that come, storing up the signs and experiences they offer, “treasuring them in her heart.”

Today we see Mary in Nazareth, a young girl whom the angel visits, waiting for her answer. At Christmas, we’ll see Mary in Bethlehem, humbly, silently showing us the Infant, her Child, God come to us. At Easter, we will see her standing beneath the cross of Jesus. She’s his mother; she’s a woman of faith.

 

Cuarto domingo de Adviento: María, mujer de fé

Alguien me dijo recientemente, ” ¿Por qué no oímos más sobre María durante el Adviento? Escuchamos sobre Juán el Bautista e Isaías, el profeta, pero, ¿por qué no oímos más sobre María, quién trajo a Jesús a este mundo? Ella tiene un lugar especial en el plan de Dios.”

Bueno, nosotros sí reconocemos a María durante el Adviento y la conocemos a través de personas como Juán el Bautista, Isaías, y las personas sobre  quién leemos en las escrituras. Todas las lecturas del Adviento, en realidad, nos ayudan a comprender esta mujer quién tiene un papel tan importante en el misterio de nuestra salvación. Este domingo especialmente nos encontramos con ella.

Tomen nuestra primera lectura para este domingo, del Viejo Testamento. El rey David se pregunta que podría hacer por Dios después que Dios ha hecho tanto por él. Ahora el rey está establecido en Jerusalén, habitando un bello y nuevo palacio de cedro, mientras el Arca de la Alianza, el signo de la presencia de Dios, está en una tienda de campaña. Así que David dice, ” ¿ Debiera yo construirle a Dios una gran casa, un lugar de belleza donde Dios pueda habitar y ser adorado?”

El profeta Natán le dice a David que a Dios no le interesa vivir en un edificio, un lugar de ladrillo o piedra. Dios quiere vivir con David y con su pueblo para siempre.

El Evangelio de hoy va aún más lejos: el lugar de gran belleza donde Dios vivirá es en María, la madre de Jesús. A través de ella la Palabra, el Verbo de Dios se convierte en carne. Ella por su parte humildemente lo levanta y nos invita a recibirlo para que viva con nosotros. Nuestro Evangelio comienza:
“El ángel Gabriel fue enviado por Dios a una ciudad de Galilea, llamada Nazaret, a una virgen desposada con un varón de la estirpe de David, llamado José. La virgen se llamaba María. Entró el ángel a donde ella estaba y le dijo : ‘ Alégrate, llena de gracia, el Señor está contigo’.”

Cada palabra del Evangelio nos dice algo sobre María. Dios envía su ángel a hablarle a ella; Dios la llena de gracia; Dios desea vivir con ella, aceptar que ella lo cuide y lo ame como su hijo. ” Cúmplace en mí lo que me has dicho.” contesta María.

El ángel ha venido a una aldea de Galilea llamada Nazaret. ” ¿ Puede algo bueno venir de Nazaret? ” oímos luego en los evangelios. María es una chica joven, de quizás 15 o 16 años, esperando casarse en este pueblo poco admirado con un hombre llamado José. Ella cree en lo que le dice el ångel. Ella acepta la invitación del ángel con una fé tan sorprendente y tan grande.

Ella es una jovencita de Nazaret. ¿No es Jerusalén el lugar donde los líderes del pueblo viven, la gente inteligente que están supuestos a comprenderlo todo, y que luego rechazarán a Jesús y lo pondrán a muerte?

Los evangelios nos enseñan la fé de María de una manera sencilla. Ella no se acobarda frente a la grandeza del mensaje de Dios. Ella pregunta realisticamente, “¿Cómo podrá ser esto? ” ” El poder del Señor te cubrirá con su sombra,” le dice el ángel. El único signo que el ángel le da es que ” su prima Isabel, también a concevido un hijo en su vejez, y este es el sexto mes de embarazo para ella que era considerada estéril; porque nada es imposible para Dios.” Entonces, el ángel la deja.

” Yo soy la esclava del Señor cúmplase en mí lo que has dicho,” dice María. El ángel la deja. De lo que sabemos, el ángel nunca regresa a hablar con María después de esto. María se encuentra con cada día que viene tal como sea. Eso es fé. Enfrentándose a los días como vengan, días desconocidos, confusos, ella siempre creyendo en Dios, que es fiel y nunca retrocede en su palabra. María se enfrenta a los días que vienen guardando signos y experiencias que estos días le ofrecen, ” Atesorándolos en su corazón.”

Hoy nos encontamos con María en Nazaret. Una chica joven que el ángel visita, pidiendo su respuesta. En Navidad, veremos a María en Belén, humildemente, silenciosamente demonstrandonos el Infante, su Hijo, Dios entre nosotros. En Semana Santa la veremos parada frente a la cruz de Jesús. Ella es su madre; ella es una mujer de fé.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Annunciation

Annunciation
The Annunciation account from Luke’s gospel usually stands by itself in the liturgy, but in our weekday readings during Advent we read it as the evangelist would have us read it –after the account of an angel announcing to the priest Zechariah that a child will be born to him and his wife Elizabeth. (Luke 1, 5-25, December 19th)

The angel approaches Zechariah in the temple, where great things are remembered, yet the priest can’t believe he and his wife can conceive a child. They’re too old. He  doubts.

In little Nazareth, Mary believes the angel despite a message far more difficult to comprehend. “ The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

By God’s power Mary conceives the Son who will be born to her in Bethlehem. “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word,”

Medieval artists assumed that Mary was at prayer when the angel came and traditionally placed the Annunciation scene at the beginning of an hour of prayer in the prayer books of their time. Only prayer would enable Mary to believe and accept what would come.

The Annunciation scene pictured above stands at the beginning of an hour of prayer in one such medieval prayer book with the words beneath it in latin: “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.”

Prayer helps us discern and say yes to what God wills, so we ask God to open our lips and give him praise by doing his will. Mary responded that way when the angel greeted her.

My community, the Passionists, still begin the prayers of the liturgy of the hours by reciting the Angelus, a prayer that repeats this gospel story. “The angel of the Lord declared to Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit….”

Prayer opens the way to mysteries far beyond us. Mary knew that as a woman of faith.

At Mass today we pray:  “O God, grant that by Mary’s example, we may in humility hold fast to your will.” Open our eyes to see and our lips to say yes.

Readings here.

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Zechariah in the Temple

“In the days of King Herod.” Luke’s gospel says, the Angel Gabriel came to the priest Zechariah as he brought incense into the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem to honor the Lord God. The angel speaks next to the altar of incense, where we would expect an angel to be. “Your prayer has been heard,” the angel says to the old priest. “Your wife will bear you a son.”

Surely, though, the old priest no longer prayed that prayer. For him and his wife childbearing was over. The promise of new life was long gone. He could hope for a child no longer, he thought.

But the angel speaks of a child “great in the eyes of the Lord” who was to be called John. He will more than fulfill their hopes, turning “many of the children of Israel to their God.”

Still, the old priest persists in doubt and he’s punished with silence. He cannot speak. Only after the child is born will he speak again, as he announces to those at his birth that “his name is John.” You lose your voice when you lose hope in God’s promises. You get it back again when you believe.

When John is born, Zechariah sings a song of praise as he sees God’s unexpected  gift.

In the Communion Prayer for today’s Mass we say: “As we give thanks, almighty God, for these gifts you have bestowed, graciously arouse in us, we pray, the desire for those yet to come.” Never doubt the gifts God wants to give you, Zechariah reminds us. Doubt makes us silent. God’s gifts give us a voice.

Readings here. .

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The Gospel of St. Matthew and the Virgin Birth

holy family

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about,” today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel begins. He describes it through the experience of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Matthew’s account is summarized in the creed. “I believe in Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God…who by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary.”

Is this true? Here’s Pope Benedict XVI:

“The answer is an unequivocal yes. Karl Barth pointed out that there are two moments in the story of Jesus when God intervenes directly in the material world: the virgin birth and the resurrection from the tomb, in which Jesus did not remain, nor see corruption.

“These two moments are a scandal to the modern spirit. God is “allowed” to act in ideas and thoughts, in the spiritual domain–but not in the material. That is shocking. He does not belong there. But that is precisely the point. God is God and he does not operate merely on the level of ideas. In that sense, what is at stake in both of these moments is God’s very godhead. The question that they raise is: does matter also belong to him?

“Naturally we may not ascribe to God anything nonsensical or irrational, or anything that contradicts his creation. But here we are not dealing with the irrational or contradictory, but precisely with God’s creative power, embracing the whole of being. In that sense, these two moments – the virgin birth and the real resurrection from the tomb–are the cornerstones of faith.

“If God does not have the power over matter then he is simply not God. But he does have this power, and through the conception and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has ushered in a new creation. So as the Creator he is also our Redeemer. Hence the conception and birth of Jesus Christ from the Virgin Mary is a fundamental element of our faith and a radiant sign of hope.”

(The Infancy Narratives: Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, pp 56-57 )

Like the temple rulers in Jerusalem who rejected Jesus in his time, there are those who reject him today.

You can find the scripture readings for today here.

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The Tree of Jesse

treeofJesse
From the 17th of December until Christmas, we read on weekdays from the infancy narratives  of Matthew and Luke. They prepare us to celebrate the  Christmas feast.

We begin today with Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ, tracing his ancestry as “the son of David and the son of Abraham.” As a descendant of Abraham, Jesus fulfilled the promise God made to Abraham: “in your descendants all nations would be blessed,” As a descendant of David, Jesus is a royal Messiah.

Matthew’s genealogy points to a Messiah whom Jew and Gentile can claim as their  Savior. His roots are worldwide, his ancestors were exiles in Babylon as well as people of Palestine.

He’s not just a Jewish Messiah, according to Matthew’s listing. His bloodline includes women like Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba, who were foreigners but also women with questionable backgrounds. Tamar became a prostitute to win Judah’s favor; Ruth honored many gods, Bathsheba was sexually involved with King David.

In his humanity, then, Jesus didn’t come from perfect ancestors or untainted Jewish royalty ; he’s rooted in all humanity; his bloodline includes saints and sinners. We might even say he comes from a line of sinners and some saints. He shares our human DNA.

The Tree of Jesse was a favorite subject for medieval artists working on illuminated manuscripts or creating stained glass windows for churches. To discover who we are, we need to take his family tree as our family tree. Jesus took upon himself all of humanity as his own. His genealogy continues and includes us.

Luke in his geneology sees him as descended from Adam, and he becomes the new Adam. We are born from his side, we share his blood; he is the first born of many like us. So we pray in today’s opening prayer:

“O God, Creator and Redeemer of human nature…your Only Begotten Son, having taken to himself our humanity, may you be pleased to grant us a share in his divinity.” (Collect)

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A Voice That Passes Away

John the Baptist is a good figure to look at as times change and we do too. He is the voice, St. Augustine says.  “John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever.”

John’s “voice” passes away. He no longer baptizes at the Jordan River. He has ceded to the Word and so should we. Our voice passes away; something of ourselves has to go. That applies also to what we cherish and the things we hold dear, the institutions that have upheld us, the families that supported us.  Our way must give way to  God’s way? We think so little of this.

Listen again to Augustine:  “What does prepare the way mean, if not be humble in your thoughts? We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.

“If he had said, “I am the Christ,” you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself.

“He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.”

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What’s a Christmas Tree?

According to the Pew Research Center (December 18.2013) 76% of those who profess to be Catholic will attend religious services on Christmas. My own experience says the number will drop considerably the following Sunday.

The survey says that practices associated with Christmas as a religious holiday, like having a Christmas tree, are weakening.(79% will have one) I’m sure that applies to the Christmas crib and religious carols and music as well. Macy’s proclaims on its advertisement, “BELIEVE.” Believe what?

So maybe it’s time to keep the season proclaiming belief. Might be good to start with blessing our Christmas tree. Here’s one:

Long ago, God placed a tree in the garden of paradise as a gift to all human beings, a tree of wisdom and knowledge and laden with every good thing. Our Christmas Tree reminds us of that tree. It reminds us of the blessings Jesus Christ brings at his coming, blessings of  kindness and care. He brought us these blessings through the Tree of his Cross.

So we thank God at this time, remembering the birth of his Son.

                                                                                                                                                                   ★

 Lord our God,

 the heavens are works of your hands,

the moon and stars you made;

 the earth and sea, and every living creature came into being

 by your word. And all of us, too.

 May this tree cheer this house

 Through Jesus Christ, your good, holy Son

 who brings life  and beauty to us and to our world.

 Lighting this tree, we hope in his promise.

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