Daughters of Mary
Instruction, November 22, 2016
Lynn D. Clapper
I wanted to begin as Daughters of Mary facilitator in the Advent season so that I could share a series of imaginings with you that have been helpful to me in understanding Mary as Jesus’ mother, and in understanding Jesus as Mary’s son. As Catholics, we do not have too much problem understanding Jesus’ divine nature, i.e. the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation, the Divine Presence in the Eucharist. Understanding his humanity is far more difficult. He is fully man, as well as fully God. Yet, somehow we are confused by his true humanity, and we think that he was a sort of super man who was saved from his human frailties whenever his divinity kicked in.
While this may be true, if we are going to know Jesus in our own lives, we need to understand how he came and lived as one of us. St. Ignatius suggests that the place to begin is at the beginning, by being with Mary as she accepts the words of the angel that she will bear a son who will be king. It is likely that she may not have fully understood all the angel told her that day, but, as we will learn, she is his mother first, and she comes to understand him in the same ways as any mother comes to understand her son.
The first Sunday of Advent begins with a gospel that speaks of time in waiting, both for the coming of a promised Savior, and for the promised return of Jesus Christ. Cissy’s thoughtful commentary this morning, describes the importance of this watchful waiting, both for the ancient Hebrew people, and for us in our own time. In Year A, the Advent gospels are written by Matthew, who was concerned with proving to a Jewish audience that Jesus Christ was, in fact, the fulfillment of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. The prophetic voice had been silent for nearly 400 years, however, and it is easy to imagine that the hope for a Messiah had grown distant, kept alive primarily through reading and rereading of Scripture, but, perhaps, having no real meaning in the everyday lives of the Jewish people. It is exactly at this point that we meet Mary. Let’s imagine what it was like for her, when the story of the watchful waiting of the ancient Hebrews began to focus on the birth a special baby boy.
It is a beautiful day in early spring. You are a young girl of fourteen, betrothed to an older man that you will marry in a year’s time. You are not really unlike the other girls in the devout Jewish households of your day, yet, in many ways, you are quite different. The rumor is that God has special plans for you. Even your mother tells you this. Your devotion to God is exceptional, and your entire demeanor seems pure and pristine, in a word, immaculate.
This day is no different from any other. The women of the household have gone to their duties, and you are home, perhaps doing chores, perhaps studying. Suddenly, you are surprised that someone else is there. You are not afraid, because somehow he seems familiar. But, he greets you with the strangest of words. “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” He seems awed as he greets you, yet, you know these words are reserved for women exceptionally blessed, and chosen for a special purpose. Now you are nervous.
But he is quick to put you at ease. The awe has not left his voice as he says to you “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” He has your attention. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, 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.”
Now, this you can understand, this part about the throne of David. We have been awaiting a new king forever, you think to yourself. Everyone knows the stories about King David. Joseph, your fiancée, even descends from King David.
But, this stranger is telling you… that you are going to have a baby? You and Joseph do not live together yet, and you have been betrothed to him since you were very young. You need to be sure you understand this correctly. “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” you ask the stranger.
And he calmly replies, “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. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”
And, as he says these words, you realize that this stranger must be an angel of God. But, Elizabeth? This is a miracle! Your aunts gave up hope long ago that Elizabeth would have children. And while you are not really sure you understand what the angel is telling you about your baby being the Son of God, you think that if God can do this for Elizabeth….
So, you look the stranger/angel straight in the eye and tell him “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” You will do this. You will do as the Lord asks.
And then, the angel is gone. You are left just as he found you…nothing has changed, but everything has changed. In the time and space of a conversation on a spring afternoon between his messenger angel and a young girl of immaculate character, God sets in motion the redemption of the whole human race. Be it done to me according to your word. A young girl of fourteen becomes a woman in an instant, and shows us all how to follow in the footsteps of the Lord.
And so, Mary’s watchful waiting begins, and as Daughters of Mary, we watch and wait with her. Cissy’s reflection will remind us that everyone, everywhere, continues life all around us at the very moment God inserts himself in our lives, but it is in these moments that he does his most miraculous work. It does not matter whether we are the ancient Hebrews who were chosen as God’s special people and waited over a thousand years for the return of their king. It does not matter if we are a young girl full of favor who awaits the birth of a baby she likely does not quite understand. It does not matter if you or I wait each day, or each hour, for God to speak to us. Our answer should be the same as Mary’s on that early spring day…Be it done unto me according to your word. Then, let’s wait, let’s watch, let’s see, what things are not impossible for God.