“Obedience: the depth of the Christmas mystery”
Fourth Sunday of Advent – C
Joanne wasn’t sure what she felt. She hadn’t spoken to anyone since she’d seen the pregnancy test results- they were positive. Positive! What would that mean for her life? Could they afford a child? Was she happy? Frightened? She didn’t feel pregnant. Was it really true? When Larry came home Joanne held her breath as she showed him the results, and Larry exploded in happiness. It was then that tears burst from Joanne’s eyes, tears of expectant joy.
Like the story just told, we can feel the excitement and joy between Mary and Elizabeth, her cousin. In this story we see two adult women who respond out of obedience to the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to both of them. The meeting of these two women naturally promises something unusual!
Mary was “overshadowed by the Holy Spirit” and the Son of God became incarnate; Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and announced the presence of her Lord. Mary and Elizabeth both receive the Holy Spirit, are obedient (they hear and respond) and have “annunciations.” They announce to others what the “good news” was to them. (Mary, that she would conceive Jesus; Elizabeth, that her Lord was in her midst).
Then the text compels us to ask the question: “Where is Joseph?” How does Joseph take all this? What are his feelings, knowing that Mary is pregnant and not understanding it all. After all, Joseph was engaged to Mary, who’s baby is this anyway?
Mary is filled with joy, although a little puzzled herself at how all this could be true. Elizabeth is so ecstatic to finally being able to have a child, she would leap at any news, but the mother of her Lord visiting her with this news? Mary is running all over the countryside to make her own annunciations to here kinsfolk and poor Joseph is sitting back bewildered at how all this could happen.
The whole premise of this story and the story of the Birth of the Word Incarnate in the world can be summed up in one word – Obedience, based on faith.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews tells us that: “Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings God neither desired or delighted in.” Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.” In order to do the “will” of God our Father, in order to be “obedient”, we must first have faith. Faith is believing in that which we cannot see.
Mary neither fully comprehended nor could she see the outcome of her “yes” to God, yet she had faith and out of that faith she obeyed. Elizabeth, having been barren for so many years, could not see the end of her life without a child to be blessed with, and she had faith – faith that God would answer her prayers, and so she obeyed. Joseph, so fully and deeply in love with a young woman, that he did not want to risk damaging her reputation and exposing her to the law, had faith. He believed the message of the Angel and took Mary into his home and resigned himself to raise a child that was not his biological child – and all this took a great amount of faith!
On this last Sunday before Christmas we are gently led into the depths of the Christmas mystery. Already on this Sunday we are reminded that Jesus’ life was one of obedience to his Father. We define ourselves in relation to our Lord through obedience.
But always our encounter with God leads to annunciations of God’s presence in our lives. God’s plan of salvation for us is fulfilled by Christ’s obedience to the Father’s will.
The way the mystery moves from annunciation to fulfillment is by obedience. The same dynamic defines our Christian way of living: we are overshadowed by the Holy Spirit in baptism when, in the midst of the Christian community, the Lord’s presence is announced. But our own annunciation only comes to fulfillment when we spend our lives being obedient to God’s will.
Think about this: doing God’s will is an incarnation and annunciation! The circumstances of our obedience won’t be so spectacular as Mary’s and Elizabeth’s; but our obedience is no less fruitful. In our helping hand, God is present. In our visits to the sick and elderly, God is present. In our disciplining and forming our children, God is present. In all our daily dying to self, God is present. This is incarnation: God is present. This is the depth of the Christmas mystery: our obedience.