December 18, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

Mary’s ‘yes’ makes the incarnation of Jesus a reality

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

The season of Advent comes to its fulfillment in the story of Mary’s acceptance of God’s will for her. In spite of her hesitation, this humble young woman agrees to become the theotókos, the mother of God. With this singular responsibility, she accepts both profound sorrow and the greatest joy ever known by a human being.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent, which we celebrate this weekend, retells the familiar story of Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel. St. Luke’s Gospel (Lk 1:26-38) recalls her simple, straightforward question, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Lk 1:34)

And it also gives Gabriel’s reply, “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” (Lk 1:35).

Mary’s freely given “yes” to the invitation she received from God’s messenger made the great mystery we know as the incarnation a reality. The second person of the Blessed Trinity, God the Father’s only Son, became one of us by the power of the Holy Spirit and was nurtured in Mary’s womb until the time of his miraculous birth in Bethlehem. “And the Word became flesh,” St. John’s Gospel tells us (Jn 1:14), “and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).

The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (Rom 16:25-27) calls the incarnation a “mystery kept secret for long ages, but now manifested through the prophetic writings” (Rom 16:25), and “made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ” (Rom 16:26-27).

The mystery of God’s closeness to us is made manifest to all nations, above all, through the life, death and resurrection of Mary’s child, Jesus. “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High” (Lk 1:32), the angel tells Mary, “and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32-33).

The first reading from the second Book of Samuel (2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16) contains the prophecy that a descendant of King David will one day establish a reign that will endure forever. We Christians believe that Mary’s son, Jesus, is the one foretold by the prophets. And in the responsorial psalm for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Ps 89), we sing:

“I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations” (Ps 89:4-5).

We Christians believe that it is Mary’s “yes” that brings about the fulfillment of all that has been promised. The Holy Spirit plants the divine seed in Mary’s womb, and she conceives the child “who will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). Thus, the mystery kept secret for long ages—that a virgin would conceive and bear a child who alone could save his people from their sins—is realized when Mary says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

The Collect for this Sunday beautifully expresses the way we feel as we conclude this special time of year and look forward to Christmas:

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity 
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Mary of Nazareth whose humility and simplicity brought about the fulfillment of humanity’s longing 2,000 years ago. And because Advent looks forward to the Second Coming of this same God incarnate, we rightly look to Mary to help us get ready for her son’s return in glory.

As we conclude this time of preparation, let us pray that Mary’s example will inspire us to be receptive to God’s will for us. May we always say “yes” to God’s messengers who speak to us in prayer, in sacred Scripture and in our encounters with all God’s people. And may God’s only son, the child of Mary, come into our hearts this Christmas with abundant gifts of forgiveness, peace and joy. †

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