“Therefore, though it is God who takes the initiative of coming to dwell in the midst of men, and he is always the main architect of this plan, it is also true that he does not will to carry it out without our active cooperation.” – Pope Benedict XVI
Luke 1:26-38: ‘In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you,’ the angel answered, ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary; ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.’
Christ the Lord Of whom can it be said, “His reign will have no end”? Only of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the son of David (from whose descendents the promised Messiah was to be born), and the only man ever born of a virgin. Gabriel’s brief announcement to Mary foretells the advent of someone absolutely unique: the Davidic king who will rule over all the nations, the one who would save mankind from their sins (“Jesus” means “God saves”), and the one who would fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies about the reunification of Israel and Judah (the “House of Jacob”). The entire gospel is packed into this Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary.
It is a gospel that at times is hard to believe. Sometimes it seems almost too good to be true – too simple, too easy. On the other hand, when the sufferings and tragedies of life and the tumultuous twists and turns of human history oppress us, it seems more like a fairy tale, a pipe dream. For Mary too the announcement was almost overwhelming. But her faith and purity sensitized her to God’s truth. She accepted the angel’s message and all its implications for her own life – a radical, unforeseen change in her plans. She was able to do so because she had long ago assimilated a doctrine we too often ignore, one that Gabriel reminded her of: “Nothing is impossible for God.”
Christ the Teacher Christmas, the part of Christ’s life this Gospel passage is connected to, presents us with the mystery of God who became man, but it also includes the mystery of man cooperating in the saving action of God. God sends his messenger to Mary in order to invite her to become the mother of the Savior. She accepted the invitation, and history has never been the same. But it would have been possible for her to reject it. Like the parable Christ tells of the many townspeople who decline the king’s invitation to attend his son’s wedding feast, Mary could have considered God’s intervention just a disruption of her plans, an inconvenience. But she did not.
When God asked her to take on a role in his plan of salvation, she said yes: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me.” Her question to the archangel, “But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?” was different than the similar sounding question Zechariah had posed: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.” Zechariah was asking for proof that God could do what he promised; Mary was merely asking what God wanted her to do – she had promised her virginity to God, and she wanted to know if God was asking her something else. She didn’t doubt God’s wisdom or power; she just wanted more instructions. This is why the angel’s response to her was generous, while his response to Zechariah was harsh. Zechariah answered God’s call by saying, “Prove it to me”; Mary answered saying, “Show me the way to go.”
We can learn no greater lesson than how to say yes to God. Mary’s “yes” reversed Eve’s “no,” and paved the way for Christ’s undoing of Adam’s fall. Likewise, when God disrupts our lives – through the voice of conscience, the normal responsibilities and demands of our state in life, or the indications of Church teaching – our “yes” can echo Mary’s and make more room for Christ in this fallen world. But our “no” – or even our “maybe” – can just as easily shut him out.
Christ the Friend Many friends exchange gifts, but only Christ has given us his own mother, to be our solace and our refuge as we strive to follow in his footsteps.
As he was dying on the cross, Jesus entrusted his mother to the care of his “beloved disciple,” and he entrusted the disciple to her care: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27).
From its earliest days, the Church has interpreted this passage in a deeply spiritual way: since Jesus has desired to have us as his brothers and sisters, he has also desired to share with us his mother, to give us a mother in the order of grace. Through the ages, Christians in all walks of life have been inspired by Mary’s example, comforted by her spiritual solicitude, and aided by her heavenly intercession. Wherever one finds true devotion to Mary (which consists primarily in the imitation of her “yes” to God, not just in pious expressions and pretty pictures), one finds as well a passionate love for Jesus Christ, the Savior. She accompanied him on every step of his earthly sojourn, and she accompanies his little brothers and sisters (that’s us) with equal love and concern.
Christ in My Life Thank you for making me a Christian. You are the one Savior, the promised Messiah, and your Kingdom will have no end. You have called me into your Kingdom. What more could I ask for? You have given me your friendship. Lord, teach me to live closer to you, to have the same scale of values that you have, and to see all things with your eyes.
Mary, you were just a girl when God came and invited you to be the mother of the Savior. Even then you knew that God’s will was the highest and wisest calling. You didn’t fear missing out on all that the world had to offer, because you only wanted to stay close to the world’s Creator. Teach me to trust and love Christ, and teach me to give him to others, as you gave him to us.
How strange, Lord, that you made the history of salvation depend not only on your own actions, but also on the free cooperation of your creatures! You waited for Mary to say yes before coming to be our Savior. You wait for each of us to say yes before coming to save us. I renew my “yes” right now. Teach me to help others say yes too; only what I do for your Kingdom will last forever.
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.