Prepare Ye The Way: The Example of Mary

Adoration of the Shepherds by Matthias Stomer, 1632

Read the Annunciation story: Luke 1:26-28

In this passage that we’ve just read from the Gospel of Luke, we hear the story of the Annunciation from the Angel Gabriel to Mary. The Annunciation connects with our theme for this morning of how the Lord prepared the way for the coming of Jesus because Gabriel was the Messenger of God. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, Gabriel is known as the Mouthpiece of God. So God sent the angel to Mary to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus. In that encounter, the angel proclaims that Mary had found favor with God and had been chosen by the Father to bear his Son. Mary didn’t fully understand how such an honor could be given to her. She even asks the angel, “how can this be?”

In ancient times, women did not hold any place of prominence in society. In the Jewish culture, in fact, women were restricted to roles of little or no authority. They were to be considered inferior to men and under the authority of either their father before marriage or their husband after marriage. In Mary’s case, she is among the most powerless in society. She is young in a world that values age. She is female in a world ruled by men. She is among the poor in a society that determines importance based on position and wealth. And, at the time the angel appears to her, she has neither husband nor a child to validate her existence. And so, for her to be found to have favor with God and to be full of grace shows how God’s activity is surprising and almost a reversing of human expectations.

Mary’s response to the angel “how can this be?” is not a desire to have proof of what the angel is saying. Instead, it’s a question of how this promise can come true in light of the obvious stumbling blocks…the most crucial being her virginity. In a sense, one can imagine that she only heard the part of the message where the angel said, “you will conceive and bear a son.” The angel clarifies that it will not be by human actions that this will take place, but only by divine power.  

Mary’s response is one of faith: “May it be done to me according to your word.” That statement is a recognition that God has specifically chosen her to play an important role in the salvation of his people. It was not the result of something she had done. Everything that happened after the Annunciation all took place through the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Not only was it the Holy Spirit who impregnated Mary with the very Savior of the World, but it was the Holy Spirit who gave our Blessed Mother the courage to respond to God’s invitation.
  • When Mary thought about what would happen if word got out that she was pregnant before marriage, when Joseph was secretly planning on divorcing her, it was the power of the Holy Spirit that gave her the peace of mind and heart to not worry, to not be afraid. She knew that she was doing God’s will. That’s all that mattered to her.
  • When Joseph and Mary were forced to travel back home to Nazareth in the days before Jesus’ birth, it was the Holy Spirit that gave Mary the ability to trust that God was at work.
  • When Jesus was born, it was through the Holy Spirit that Mary and Joseph were guided to the stable.

For those of you who are parents, you remember the first time that you looked upon your newborn son or daughter. Now, imagine how Mary felt, knowing that the child she was gazing upon was the very Savior of the World. The joy she must have felt knowing that her son was the One who was sent by God to redeem her people. I imagine there was also a healthy sense of fear or worry that also touched her heart in some way. There is no doubt that Mary knew that there were going to be trials along the way, moments of suffering that would pierce her heart as she watched her son grow into this role of the Messiah. Yet, for Mary that fear wasn’t crippling. She knew that the Holy Spirit was going to be guiding her along the way in those times as well.

And so, for us, Mary is the model Christian disciple, she is the person we should imitate. In our own lives, God desires us to be the bearers of his Son. He is asking that we open our hearts to His Word. He is giving us the opportunity to prepare now for the coming of His Word. He is asking to utilize us as his instruments to bring his Son into the world and to be the instruments through which the Holy Spirit flows. At times though, because of our own human weaknesses, we are hesitant to respond to that invitation from God. Instead of responding with faith like Mary did throughout her life, many of us respond out of that fear. We feel unworthy to be chosen by God for this purpose. We feel insufficient, lacking the courage and the skills necessary to take the Word of God out to those we encounter in our daily lives. When those fears creep in, the Holy Spirit is always there to reassure us, as He did with Mary through the Angel. The words of Gabriel to Mary are words that God speaks to us: “Do not be afraid.”

There is nothing we can do to ever deserve to be chosen by Christ to proclaim the Gospel. There is nothing we can ever do to earn the grace that God wishes to bestow upon each of us. It is God who does the work. It is the Holy Spirit who prepares our hearts and establishes the house for himself. And that house, that temple is our very bodies, it’s our souls. The Father chooses us to be those dwelling places for His Son. This Christmas, the Lord wants to do that within each of us.

Over the last several weeks now, I have been praying with something that the Lord has been placing on my heart quite a bit. I truly believe the Lord is doing something incredible during this season of Advent. As I sit in the confessional each week, I see how He is working in so many of you. I really think He is bringing about a sense of revival in our Church and in the hearts of His people. I believe with all my heart that He is using this season to bring us to a moment of deep conversion. He’s preparing our hearts for the coming of Jesus anew.

In just a few moments, we’re going to spend some time doing a mini exercise in lectio divina with the Christmas story from Luke. As we do that, let’s invite the Lord into our hearts and ask Him to reveal to us those areas of our lives where we still need to make the necessary preparations to welcome his Son. As we approach the manger, as we look into that crib and behold our tiny Savior, we will see in Him the manifested essence of vulnerability, fragility, and dependency. It is an invitation for each of us to be place our own lives into His hands. We see within the Christ-child our own vulnerability, our own weakness and fragility, our own dependence on Him. Likewise, each time we receive Jesus in the Eucharist we hold the almighty in our hands. He again is vulnerable, fragile, and dependent upon us. We hold the very Savior of the world in our hands. He trusts us that much. Do we trust Him to do the same with us? Are we willing to be vulnerable with Him? Are we willing to entrust our fragility to Him? Are we willing to depend solely on Him? That is the invitation for us this morning. And as we enter into this moment of prayer, may that be what is on our hearts. Will we allow the Lord to hold us?

Lectio Divina with the Christmas story: Luke 2:1-20

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