4 Sunday of Advent, Year B
2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Rom 16:25-27; Lk 1:26-38
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle A, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2007 and republished in Viet Nam 2010. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
At the time just before the coming of the Savior, people were tired of decayed situations in the Palestinian society. Religious and civil leaders were on the way downhill. On the political front, their nation was ruled by the Romans. Therefore, people waited for the coming of a savior more than ever.
According to popular expectation of that time, people expected a savior to liberate them from misery and occupation, not just from sin. Also at that time, many Jewish young women dreamed to become mother of a savior. As for Mary, she did not share their dream of becoming mother of a savior, even though she had an opportunity since she had betrothed to Joseph. The engagement law at that time in the Jewish society was a serious agreement. The engagement was as binding as the marriage covenant. To be engaged means to be married legally. However, Mary through some agreement with Joseph, almost like a vow, decided to stay a virgin.
That was why when the Angel Gabriel asked Mary to be the mother of the savior, Mary was concerned about her vow of virginity, saying to the angel: How can this be, since I have no relations with a man (Lk 1:34). Only when the angel guaranteed her that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, then Mary accepted the motherly role of the Savior.
When Joseph found out that Mary was with child, he decided to divorce her quietly. The fact that he decided to divorce Mary quietly tells us that they did not live together as husband and wife. The Gospel today tells us Mary opened herself to respond to the word of God and the will of God. Mary accepted and trusted the word of God through the message of the angel in order to conceive, even though she did not quite understand how this could be, since she had vowed to remain virginal. Even though she did not understand, Mary believed in the power of God in order to accept God's plan by saying yes to the angel: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word (Lk 1:38). By saying 'yes' to the will of God, the Son of God was conceived miraculously in her womb without the cooperation of man.
Suppose Mary had not said yes, what would have happened to humankind? How would our lives have turned out to be? How gracious the yes response! When King David restored military, political and social stability in the country, he said to Nathan, the prophet: I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent (2 Sm 7:2). Therefore, the king intended to build a house for the ark of God. The ark was a symbol of the covenant between God and the Israelites because he had chosen them to be his own and given them the laws and commandments.
The ark was the symbol of the presence of God. However, God had a different plan. God’s plan looked to a time when the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel (Is 7:14). God’s plan was put into effect when Mary accepted to conceive the Immanuel (Mt 1:23).
That is why in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Church considers Mary as the Ark of the Covenant, since she carried the Son of God in her womb. God’s plan, which Saint Paul recorded in his letter to the Romans, was made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith to the only wise God (Rom 16:26). At that time, Mary anxiously waited for the coming of the messiah like any other Jewish man or woman. Particularly, Mary anxiously waited for the arrival of the messiah from her womb.
Men and unmarried women do not have experience of pregnancy. In order for people to have some idea of being pregnant, a certain company has made a bag with sizes and contours that when attaching to their tummy, people would stand and walk, and sit and lie like a pregnant woman.
Even though without experience of pregnancy, people can still imagine somewhat how anxiously Mary waited for the coming of her Son from her womb. Mary underwent nine months and ten days of pregnancy like other pregnant women. Mary’s openness to the word of God, her faith in God's word, her obedience to his will and her cooperation with his power must help us how to prepare ourselves to celebrate the coming of the Lord. She also waited for nine months plus ten days like any other woman.
The miraculous conception of Jesus, without the cooperation of man, must help us stir up a sense of wonder and awe and praise in us. Unfortunately, in our time and culture of high technology, man has lost a sense of wonder and awe before supernatural power. To counter that loss, we need to keep in touch with what God has done in our lives and in the world.
We need, like Mary, to treasure and ponder in our hearts, what God has done in our lives.
Mary's faith in the word of God should help us open our minds and hearts to welcome the word of God incarnate and to do his will. God's word is not something, spoken in the past unrelated to our lives; God's word spoken to us thousands of years ago is still alive. His word must have power to transform our hearts and change our lives, because his words are spirit and life.
A prayer for a mind and heart open to the word of God:
Oh, second Person of the living God!
The ever-present from the beginning.
You chose to be conceived in the virgin’s womb.
Stir up in us a sense of surprise and wonder.
Teach me to prepare for you a manger in my heart,
made of prayer and repentance, sacrifice and charity.
to warm your heart. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong