As we light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath, we realize how near the end of our Advent journey is. In just a few short days we will be celebrating the birth of our Savior. Joy and anticipation fill us as the day draws near.
Advent is a season of patient waiting for the Lord who has promised to appear in our midst. It is a time to remember how God has revealed Himself in the past through the birth of Jesus Christ. It is also a time of celebration and gratitude for the ways God reveals Himself to us in the present through the insight we gain from His word, through the inspiration we receive from other believers and through the sacraments which heal and empower us. Finally, Advent is a season of anticipation as we look forward in hope to the glorious Second Coming of our Lord who will reveal Himself definitively to all people dispelling any possible doubt that He is the Savior of the World. These attitudes of remembrance, celebration and anticipation sum up the meaning of the Advent season.
Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, characterizes for us more than any other person in the Christmas drama what our Advent preparation should be, particularly as it comes to an end. She is the one who waits perfectly for the will of God to be revealed. We see in today’s gospel how she listens in wonder at the angel Gabriel’s declaration that she, the one “full of grace”, was chosen above all women to be the mother of the Savior. She does not ask what she has done to deserve such an honor. She does not ask what will be required of her in the future. She simply says “yes” to what God wants to do through her. “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” Mary’s focus is not on herself and what she might accomplish but on God and the great work He wanted to fulfill in and through her.
And so Mary, carrying the Savior of the World within her, serves as the shining image of the Advent Season. As she waits in joyful anticipation for the birth of her Son, she ponders the mystery of God that she has become caught up in. She marvels at why God would choose her, a humble girl from a remote part of Israel, to play such an important role in the world’s salvation. Her special place, however, does not fill her with pride because she understands that it is all God’s work. As she will explain to her cousin Elizabeth, “The Lord who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is His name.”
Mary, carrying Jesus within her, teaches us about the need to wait patiently for the Lord. When a woman is pregnant, there is no way to rush the birth of her child along. All she can do is wait patiently, giving the child all the time she needs to develop in her womb. Only when the baby is given that time will she eventually be born. There is nothing a mother can do to shorten her pregnancy to six or seven months. No matter how anxious she may be to hold her child in her arms, the only thing she can do is wait.
Mary teaches us this important lesson of the spiritual life - We have to give God time to work in our lives. No matter how anxious we may be to see progress in our spirituality or renewal in the Church, it can only come through the gentle work of God’s Spirit. We want to see instant results, but God works slowly and surely. No matter what we may be struggling with, what burdens are weighing us down, what sorrows are breaking our hearts, God promises to strengthen, heal and deliver us if we trust Him and wait patiently. We cannot rush God. We can only wait in joyful expectation for His work to come to term in ways that may surprise us but will never let us down.
Mary also teaches us that God does great things in small, imperceptible ways. When Mary said “yes” to being the mother of Jesus, it was the most important word ever spoken in human history up to that time, yet only the angel Gabriel heart it. Though it marked a turning point in human history, it appeared in no papers of the time nor was it recorded by any historian other than Saint Luke. What God did in Mary was thunderous and earth shaking, but it did not register on the Richter scale. God was working in a small way, through an ordinary girl, to change the course of history.
In just such a way, God is using ordinary people who are willing to say “yes” to Him day in and day out to build His Kingdom. It happens in the home of the man who quietly empties the dishwasher to give his wife one less chore to do. It happens in the school boy who stands up for a classmate who is being picked on. It happens in the hospital when a sick person offers up her sufferings for the conversion of sinners. It happens when a teenager decides to turn off his computer and read the Bible instead. None of these actions seems noteworthy or heroic. They will mostly go unnoticed by others. But it is through just such daily acts of ordinary generosity and kindness that God changes the world.
Mary teaches us, then, to say “yes” daily to the Lord no matter how small the task may be or how unnoticed our sacrifices may go. In our day-to-day attempts to love one another, God is transforming hearts. There is no way to measure the effect. There is no way to chart the progress of individuals or the Church. Each of us, following Mary’s example, has to trust God, saying “yes” when it is easy and when it is difficult. Each of us has to wait for God to act just as Mary did in a stable in Bethlehem and throughout her life of faith.