December 21, 2008, Year B
Fourth Sunday of Advent
And Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no husband?"
My mother's name is Mary, may God rest her soul. I also have a sister named Mary. Mary is also the name of my wife's grandmother.
Some today still name their children after great and beautiful people or places of history. Especially salvation history. It's a way of hoping the child will emulate the exemplary life or experience of a particular person or place. Many today bear the name of Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth or Bethany.
On this fourth Sunday of Advent we learn that Mary is betrothed to a man named Joseph. Betrothal is not like our modern understanding of being engaged. It was a legally binding covenant of marriage lasting as long as a year before the couple lived together. A betrothal therefore could only be broken during this interim by death or divorce. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
'Since I have no husband' literally means 'I do not know man.' Mary and Joseph had entered into a legally binding betrothal with the understanding Mary would remain a virgin. Otherwise Mary's perplexity makes no sense. The announcement she would 'bear a son' in her mind means she and Joseph would conceive a son. So the 'how can this be' since she will not 'know man' in this marriage like a woman typically 'knows her husband' requires examination.
Before we get to that examination, let's examine why this special relationship between Mary and Joseph is so perplexing to modern ears.
The simplicity and the power of humility and holiness perplexes our over stimulated sexually charged culture. Precious little is left to the imagination. Cars, food, diets, movies, and a host of other stuff and things come to us attractively packaged and presented by a guy or gal who looks like there may be a fountain of youth. Of course we know there is no such thing, but millions upon millions of dollars are spent just in case the magic pill or vitamin or thing will bring us to everlasting youth and happiness. Almost nothing is presented or sold or advertised without the idea that in the end you will have better sex. Married or not!
And it all comes to us through the lust of the eyes and flesh.
So Mary's "How can this be?" is in stark contrast to the way things are today. But Gabriel answers Mary with these astounding words, "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."
Wow! The same Holy Spirit who hovered over the vast deep darkness and created the heavens and the earth, will overshadow the consecrated womb of Mary!
Mary invites the mighty work of the Holy Spirit. Her words, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word," reveal a woman to be revered and trusted to give us Jesus. All Christians share in this mystery of the incarnation. Catholics in particular have a number of pious devotions revolving around Mary the Mother of our Lord.
And why not?
Why not have a special attraction for someone who is good and beautiful?
Do you think Jesus would want us to have any less thoughts about his Mother?
I think not. You can ridicule a boy about almost anything, but no boy will ever let you speak ill of his mother. There will be a fight if that happens.
Mary brings us Jesus. Mary brings us to Jesus. She is the only woman in the Bible an angel addresses by a title rather than a name: Full of Grace. The Greek word (kecharitomene) expresses the meaning that God has already graced Mary, one who 'is now' filled with divine life. She became the Ark of the New Covenant when she said 'yes' to God, allowing the lover of souls to enter her womb and become man. It was for us men and for our salvation this holy and humble servant said, "Let it be to me according to you word."
At the recitation of the Creed we bow down at the words, "By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man." We bow in humble acceptance to the power of the Holy Spirit in our life as did Mary. No time is better for us to open our hearts wide to the creation the Holy Spirit will make of us. He will make something beautiful of your life if you will do like Mary, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God.
Like Mary, let us ponder the meaning of Gabriel's gracious words to this humble servant of Nazareth. There will be much more to ponder once the everlasting light shines upon the dark streets of Bethlehem.
This special Sunday of Advent, it is enough to ponder upon Mary's fiat, "Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord." From "How can this be?" to "Let it be to me!" and the hopes and fears of all the years are joined in the holy womb of Mary, the Mother of our Lord.
Let us pray: Dear Jesus, reveal in me more deeply the mystery of our redemption. Without you I can do nothing, without Mary I would not know you; through whom we learn that with God nothing is impossible. Amen.