Sunday, November 29, we end the longest period of Ordinary Time in the liturgical year. Almost 9 months ago we joined the universal Church in celebrating 40 days of the incomparable joy of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. And now we are invited into a different kind of celebration - quieter, more intimate and perhaps for women, more personal. Seasonally, Advent coincides with late fall and early winter - the harvest is over, a chill is in the air and we prepare for shorter days and longer nights. For some of us, our activities are less demanding and occur indoors with the fire warming our homes and our toes… contemplation seems a natural consequence of the changes in season and activity.
And our contemplation surrounds a very young girl, selected at the beginning of time to become the Ark of the New Covenant. Sinless, Immaculate Mary destined to partner with the Holy Trinity to save this world gone dark because of ignorance, because of sin, because of distance from God. Mary, the first and only human being ever created who is true to her nature: born in the likeness and image of God.
Consider the parallel stories we are given by Luke. On the one hand, we have Zachary and Elizabeth "both just before God, walking in all the commandments…" and we have the young Mary, "full of grace, having found favor with God" given to the Temple at birth and now to Joseph to wed.
Gabriel appears to Zachary to tell him to:
"Fear not, thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear a son…"… a son "… who shall be great before the Lord… that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people."
We easily empathize with the learned priest Zachary who despite his education and his high standing as a Jewish priest cannot dispel his all too human doubt and distrust.
How can this be?
How can a woman far beyond her child-bearing years conceive a child?
And so he is struck dumb and has nine months of total silence to contemplate the miracle that he and his wife will participate in. Nine months of divine knowledge that culminates in understanding, understanding bred of stillness and total silence….until:
"Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free...This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear holy and righteous in his sight, all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
The dawn from on high shall break upon us, To shine on those who dwell of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace."
Only two people on earth understand the miracle about to end forever the darkness of man: the divinely inspired priest and the girl Mary. Only these two can see, can touch and can taste the love that the God of Israel holds for His chosen people.
Yet neither can speak about it. Zachary has been made mute and Mary has been created with a silent contemplative nature - one not given to verbal expression.
Can we imagine ourselves as that girl so filled with the spirit and knowledge of God that all she asks the angel Gabriel is how this will come to be? Mary, the new Eve, has complete trust in her God.
"… And the angel said to her: Fear not Mary, for thou hast found grace with God… …How shall this be done because I know not man?"
Can we imagine a relationship so close, so intimate with God that the one answer from Gabriel suffices?
"… The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called also the Son of God…"
"… and Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word."
No false humility here, no protestations of unworthiness or any outward sign of fear.
The Church gives us these four weeks to pray with Mary; to be silent with Mary and to ask for her intercession for God's grace of total trust and confidence in His will.
For who is more like Mary than Jesus? While a babe within her body, Jesus "clothed her with himself" and filled her with his desires and affection.
Our liturgy teaches that "Mary is the most perfect image of Christ, formed truly by the Holy Spirit".
It is Mary, the mother of God whom we imitate, not Mary the young girl. As Jesus is the Way to reach the Father, just so, Mary is the surest way to reach her Son.