Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ (v.38)
Today we light the fourth candle on our wreath and we rehearse the final part of the story of salvation leading up to Christmas. So far we have heard of the ancient patriarchs, of the prophets of old, and of St John the Baptist. Today, the Fourth Sunday of Advent leads us to meditate on the Blessed Virgin Mary. We hear the familiar story of the Annunciation which, like the final piece of a puzzle, allows us to understand better the bigger picture God had in mind for the salvation of creation.
But today is not a celebration of Our Lady like we would keep for her Conception or Assumption. Today it’s a quiet and sombre meditation on the figure of the holy Virgin as she expects and looks forward to the birth of her Son; a meditation on her pattern of humility and discipleship, so that her example may inspire and help us to do likewise.
|Annunciation - Rossetti|
Our collect for this week of Advent tells us that God himself had prepared the Virgin Mary to be the mother of Jesus. This means that God did not leave the Advent of his Son to chances; he prepared in every way the woman whom he would invite to become the mother of his only-begotten Son. In this way our liturgy helps us to understand the message of the gospel reading which speaks of Mary as the favoured one (v.28). As the angel Gabriel meets Our Lady he cannot do anything other than to praise the work that God himself had wrought in Mary; her beauty, her appearance, her fullness of grace – all things that are expressed in the simple words favoured one. God prepares Mary and because of the unspoilt beauty of his own handiwork he sees in her, he also favours her above others.
At this point, many would probably have excused Mary if she had felt a little overwhelmed and perhaps even proud at her newly discovered position. At the end of the day, even her own cousin Elizabeth will describe her as Blessed among women (v.42). Yet, the holy Virgin, the person uniquely favoured by God, displays the greatest humility rather than arrogance. In fact, it is as if the very notion of God’s free favour becomes for Mary a source of continual and humble praise of her maker whom she readily acknowledges as the only source of her blessedness and joy (Cf. v.46-55). A few would have excused her if Mary had elevated herself above every other woman for being the mother of the creator; yet Our Lady chooses to humble herself before God and to embrace his will without half measures, showing herself already as a true disciple of her Son. She says, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord’.
Humility may be an underestimated virtue in the society we live in. Humility may make us think of unhappiness, even self-loathing, or other depressing thoughts; but that would be misguided. Instead cultivating humility can be the source of great joy, as primarily it involves recognising ourselves as creatures before God, and beloved, cherished creatures at that. Humility restores us in the rightful order before our maker and redeemer, and opens us up to do his will in the most complete way. Without humility we will always try to cut corners, to short-change God, and to shrink back from doing his will. In short, without humility we cannot be disciples of Christ.
The Blessed Virgin Mary remains for every Christian both mother and model of humility and discipleship – even for those misguided brothers and sisters who despise her, and mistakenly think of her as a superfluous addition to the story of salvation. Her voice speaks very few words throughout the gospels, but these are usually tough, insightful words that even the best apostle cannot equal. Today we see how Mary in her humility gives her eager consent to the will of God, giving permission to her maker to become her own child.
Mary’s consent to God has often been reduced to one word, to a “yes”. But this is just shorthand. In reality, the Virgin says more than a mere yes to God’s will; she says, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ In humility she places herself, her entire being, in the role of a faithful servant before the will of God, by saying ‘Here am I’. And then she goes further. Before the discoveries of modern medicine, the thought of pregnancy and labour would have struck fear in the heart of most women, but the thought of the coming Saviour is able to dispel the shadows of any trouble from Mary’s life; therefore the holy Virgin eagerly looks forwards to the fulfilment of God’s will within herself and says, ‘let it be with me according to your word.’
This is the humility, the servanthood, and the discipleship that each of us should embody - not personal gain and praise, not careerism, not looking for preferment, but rather willingness to serve God in whatever shape or form he requires us to. Willingness to imitate the holy Virgin and to say, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’
In these last few days of Advent, may Our Lady, help us to imitate her pattern of humility and discipleship in lives focused on her Son, our judge and our redeemer Jesus Christ. Amen.