Families gather around pictures on somebody’s phone or the car trunk, around the sick beds or graves of loved ones. They share a common legacy: people and events that influenced them individually or together, and recall them in times of trouble.
In the same way, Christians inherited that penchant for gathering and recollection. Advent is precisely that time for recalling the action of God that influenced you and me. And, in that recollection, face squarely the troubles of today as we await our liberation tomorrow.
This Advent, as we prepare a way for the Lord, we’ll look at the ways in which God first prepared for His coming. In this four-part series, we’ll explore the people God chose to be the primary influences in Jesus’ life and the circumstances into which He was born.
Within each ‘memory’, there are points at which we’ll pause and reflect. Look out for them and the memories they arouse in you. Then, facing our scars and victories, together we’ll chart a new way, new practices for a new way forward. So that together we’ll get ourselves ready to welcome Christ.
The tiny chapel was a forest of blossoms, their perfume crowding the spaces between silent bodies. Hopeful gazes fixed on a gentle, veil-framed face — a statue’s face, yes, but one that moved you past the sculptor’s rasp to the reality of the true Mother of God, our mother, who takes our prayers straight to the Father’s bosom. Were she given a glimpse of the future, would she have recognised her presence in that prayer-crammed room?
In his book, Jesus of Nazareth — The Infancy Narratives, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI notes that there was no glimpse. When the angel left Mary at the Annunciation, the angel left her. With no further directions, no evidence of the visit save the new Messiah in her womb.
So, how did God prepare this girl for her role in His plan, “to save His people from their sins”? (Mt 1:21) She was no more than 15 years old, a sun-beaten Nazareth native bearing the name that hundreds of other Jewish girls shared: ‘Maryam’, or Mary. A name given scores of meanings, ranging from ‘bitterness’ to ‘gift’.
In Mary’s time, Jewish girls were trained to be the living definition of a ‘good wife’ described in the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus. Reared to spin and weave, cook, bake and draw water, the Scriptures sang the praises of a woman industrious, wise, obedient, silent.
Societal norm kept the Jewish woman firmly in that space. Second always to men, lower still as subjects of Roman rule. Yet, God invited her willing participation in His plan. No order was given; St Bernard of Clairvaux wrote of the Annunciation exchange, “the angel awaits an answer”. Do we honour the dignity of those over whom we have authority? Do we consider them lesser than ourselves or do we inordinately desire control?
The Pope Emeritus examines aspects of Mary’s character revealed at the Annunciation (Lk 1:26–38). While troubled at the angel’s greeting, he says, Mary was not fearful. Instead, she “ponders, dialogues within herself” over what this greeting could mean. Mary had, “an inner engagement with the word”, he said, and this leads her to seek to understand it. Do I?
She was betrothed, so the marriage was not yet consummated, but Mary understands that the conception of which the angel speaks is to be immediate and, so, asks: “But, how will this come about, since I am a virgin?”
When the angel clarifies, the discussion ends. “I am the handmaid of the Lord,” said Mary. “Let it be done to me as you have said.” Authentically obedient, humble, willing to be inconvenienced by God. Am I?
Laura Ann Phillips is a writer, former missionary and a lover of the Word of God. A past Vision editor, she has been a Catholic News contributor for over 20 years.