4th Sunday of Advent, Year B
The ‘Yes’ of Mary, Mother of Joy
By Mgr Francesco Follo
1) The time of the “Yes”
During the previous Sundays the Liturgy has drawn attention to the figure of John the Baptist, the Precursor. Today it is Mary, His Mother that He gave also to us, that is offered as the example of the waiting for Christ to welcome into our lives and in our flesh.
Hence, it is important to grasp the behavior of the Virgin towards the One who comes to take home in us, who became flesh to save our flesh so the we may “conceive” the Word of God concretely. With her “fiat” (yes), Mary conceived Jesus under her heart. With our fiat we conceive Him in our hearts. Mary teaches us to say the great word “Yes, fiat, O Lord, thy will be done.”
The “yes”, the “fiat” of the Virgin Mary was not pronounced by a heart dull or sleepy, but by one tense and watchful. Even if uttered by a humble young woman, this spousal “yes” is the expression of a simple and profound heart. Mary is the Mother of God not only because she gave physical life to Jesus, but also because before conceiving Him in her womb, she listened to Him with the ear and conceived Him in the heart. She is the mother because she listens and welcomes the Son and let Him live like He is, not just because she brings Him in her lap and gives Him birth.
The “yes” of Mary was the expression of the freedom of this pure Virgin, fruitful and conscious of belonging to a history, a great history, that was bringing God into the world. A fact is historical not only because it occurs in time, but also because it occurs in a place.
The time is indicated as follows, “It was the sixth month from the conception of St. John the Baptist by Elizabeth.” It is the episode preceding the one mentioned in the today’s Gospel. Now, a six-month-old is not complete. John the Baptist represents the Old Testament and the promise. It is important to take note that the Annunciation fulfills the promise ahead of time.
When does the fulfillment happens? At the sixth month, namely when the promise is not yet mature. That, in my opinion means that the realization of a promise depends not only from God. God has made the promise, He could fulfill it immediately, He does it at the sixth month, He only waits for someone to say “yes, let it be to me as you have said, I welcome the Word.”
In short, God has been forever “Yes” to the man. When finally we also say yes as Mary did, then the fullfilment takes place. We become mature and complete people when we say yes to God. Do not wait for tomorrow to say “Yes”. Normally we think of tomorrow, waiting for better times. No. The only time we have is the present. This is the only time when we touch the eternal: the past is gone, the future is not yet here. What we are living is the time of listening. We must not look for a better one, otherwise we spend half of our life thinking about the future and the other half regretting the past, and we never live. God is “present” and his proposal is done “now.” It was not yesterday, it was not for tomorrow, it is for today. In the Gospel of Luke we remember the first words of Jesus: “Today this word is fulfilled.”
2) The place and the characters of Yes.
In this day of the Yes, it is important to understand also the place where it was pronounced, the location that the Evangelist Luke presents in deliberate contrast to the previous narration of John the Baptist. The announcement of the birth of John the Baptist takes place in the Temple of Jerusalem, is made to a priest who is carrying out his duties and takes place, so to speak, officially, as required by law, in accordance with the cult, the place and Jewish rites.
The announcement of the birth of the Messiah is made to Mary, a woman who lives in Nazareth, a small, insignificant country village of semi-pagan Galileans. Nazareth for us today means: the place of everyday life. It is to teach us that the Word is the place where we live every day. It is in our daily lives that we can and must live as children of God and listen to the Word. Then it will be helpful to go in shrines, basilicas and in the places where we can be with many others, because these places call us to a life of communion in the Church. But the important thing is the “here and now”: the present and the place of everyday life. It is there that every day the Word is made flesh in the same that in the everyday life of Mary, who has become the “place” of welcome, the new life begins. This life began not in the temple but in simple humanity of Jesus Christ, who became the true temple, the tent of meeting.
After having considered the “place” where God has revealed his love, the simple house of the humble Mary, let’s look at the characters of this announcement. Let’s start with the angel Gabriel, whose name means “power of God”, who addresses Mary that with her “yes” will bear fruit by the power of God’s grace.
The Angel’s greeting to Mary is “Rejoice, full of grace,” that we might paraphrase “Be joyful, you who are freely and forever beloved by God.” Our Lady is called to a mission, but first is invited to joy, every anguish is cancelled because the Lord “is with her” to save her and the entire humanity.
Let’s fix our eyes on the heart of Mary, who calls herself “servant” and that the Angel of God defines full of grace. Grace and service: in these two terms is enclosed all the Christian understanding of existence. The gift received continues to become a gift.
Mary remains troubled by the angel’s words. However, her confusion is not derived from misunderstanding or from fear. It comes from the emotion produced by the encounter with God who through the Angel tells her that, “free to be loved by God” is her new name.
When God calls someone to make him an instrument of salvation, he not only calls him by name, but gives him a new name, really capable of expressing his identity and his vocation. For Mary the new name is “full of grace” that is “free and forever loved by God.” This new name of Mary speaks immediately of the gratuitousness and faithfulness of God, the root of all correct understanding of God, man and the world. Of this root Mary is the luminous and transparent icon. And this is already the happy news of the miracle of Christmas, which is now imminent.
“To accept and to welcome the miracle of Christmas, is to accept that Mary is truly the ‘Mother of God’ and the ‘Virgin Mother’.” This is not against sexuality and human love. The meaning is another. We know very well that the life we give is a life toward death. God’s intervention was needed. It was necessary that the chain of birth to death should be broken so that with Jesus a creature totally alive could rise, a living creature that would not be inside death like us, but that would voluntarily grab it to destroy it. The fruitful virginity of Mary, as well as the appearances of the Risen One behind closed doors, are a sign of this life more living than ours, a transfigured materiality.
The example of Mary, who gives life to the totally alive, today is especially carried out by the consecrated virgins. By freely choosing virginity, these women confirm themselves as persons mature and capable of living. At the same time they realize the personal value of their own femininity by becoming “a sincere and total gift” to Christ, Redeemer of man and Spouse of souls. The naturally spousal disposition of the feminine personality finds a response in a virginity understood in this way. The woman, called from the very “beginning” to be loved and to love, finds in the vocation to virginity first of all the Christ as the Redeemer who “loved to the end” through the total gift of self. She responds to this gift with the “sincere gift” of her entire life (see Saint John Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem, 34).
The consecrated virgins in the world show us how to follow the fruitful example of Mary, living like her the grace of simplicity. They testify with simple humility that we should not force ourselves to think of big things, let alone to do them, because we become ridiculous in our presumption. Like the Virgin Mary we must recognize and accept the presence of the Word of God in us.
Let’s pray to Our Lady that what happened in her may happen in us. Let’s ask the Lord that His love may take root like a flower in the fragility of our flesh.
And let us all push ourselves to imitate the attitude of Mary of Nazareth, who shows us that “being is prior to doing, and that we must leave it to God to truly be what He wants us to be. It is He who makes in us many wonders. Mary is receptive, but not passive. In the same way in which she at the physical level, receives the power of the Holy Spirit but then gives flesh and blood to the Son of God that takes form in her, so, on a spiritual level, she welcomes the grace and responds to it with faith “ (Pope Francis, Angelus December 8, 2014).