Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Advent, 2011: John, Jesus, and God's New World Order

Readings for December 18, 2011, Fourth Sunday of Advent 2011:

Fourth Sunday in Advent 2011

By Deacon Lawrence N. Kaas
December 18, 2011

A Little girl sat on her grandfather's lap. Looking up into his face, she touched his wrinkled old cheek. Then she touched her own smooth cheek and asked grandpa, "did God make you"? Yes he answered, "God made me a long time ago," then she asked, "did God make me too," grandpa replied, "yes of course honey but God made you just a little while ago." Checking her own smooth face again the little girl said, "God's getting better at it, isn't He?"

In today's gospel Mary learns that she will give birth to the son of God. Mary will soon be privileged to look upon her newborn child and to let her lips be the first to kiss the perfect cheeks of the face of God.

Why Mary? Why a woman who was a virgin promised to a man? Why Elizabeth? Why a barren and elderly woman who had given up hope of ever being a mother? There is nothing in the sacred texts to recommend either of these women for such significant roles in salvation history. Yet Mary became the mother of Jesus Son of the Most High, and Elizabeth brought John into the world, the one of whom it would be said, "among those born of woman no one is greater".

Surely the good news would have found a firmer footing if Jesus and John were born of well-established and reputable families with the means to help their sons impact the world with their respective messages. However, in choosing these two insignificant women, God was announcing a new world order, one in which traditional values and expectations were turned on their ear. This process of turning things upside down and inside out even has its own theme song which Luke will place on Mary's lips in the verses that follow today's gospel.

In her song, Mary will celebrate in inscrutable ways and the will of God with words that confound us. The hungry are filled with good things, the rich are sent empty away; the mighty are thrown down from their thrones, the lowly are lifted up. This song, as surprising as it is, represents a distillation of the entire gospel with all its contradictions and correctives. Through this world's poor ones, through those least likely to be associated with power and prestige, God will work wonders. These poor ones, and their humble reliance on God, will become venues of grace and greatness,--- beginning with Mary and Elizabeth. But before Mary would sing her song and before Elizabeth would call her "blessed among women" each of these two mothers had a choice to make.

Those choices to accept God's plan for themselves and their families are at the heart of today's gospel.

Gabriel's greeting to Mary is a composite of texts from the Hebrew Scriptures all of which a attest to the special role Mary was being called to fulfill and to the fact that the era of the messiah would dawn in her fulfilling the will of God. These text also affirm that what transpires from Mary has been ordained by God and foretold by the prophets. Nevertheless, neither Mary's nor Elizabeth's responses to God were coerced. Although she clearly did not understand, Mary believed and trusted in God and accepted the plan announced by the Angel-messenger. Luke admits that she was savvy enough to be greatly troubled by what was being said to her. In speaking of Mary, Luke would also admit that, "she did not understand" but that she "pondered all these things in her heart."

Mary's pondering was a spiritual coping mechanism. Mary did not remain in her greatly troubled state. She did not cling to her anxieties but surrendered it to God. She was content to ponder and to pray, and as she gathered strength from these spiritual efforts, she cultivated a vital and sustained faith. By virtue of her faith, the Almighty and Transcendent took up residence in her, and from that holy human address, God has been uniquely revealed in Jesus. This same God wishes to make a home in each of us.

'Thank you' to Deacon Kaas, for letting me post his reflection here.

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