Fourth Sunday of Advent (Cycle B)

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Annunciation - by MURILLO, Bartolomé Esteban - from Museo del Prado, Madrid

Mary is not shown in the thralls of mystical rapture, nor in those of devotion. Murillo's Mary is a very young woman with an almost childlike face, who is kneeling at her prie-dieu, her eyes cast pensively downwards. She has set aside her basket of handiwork and seems to have been disturbed by an angel in the midst of her prayers. Mary's purity is symbolized by the white lilies, and her prior knowledge of the Messiah is symbolized by the open Holy Book at the right containing the words of the inspired writers of Genesis and Isaiah, of which she had intimate prior knowledge. Were it not for the presence of his wings, even the angel would seem to be a very worldly creature. He is not floating in some uncertain sphere, nor is he a vision, but is kneeling on the floor tiles. Strong-limbed and barefoot, almost like a peasant, his pretty face is framed by dark locks. With one hand, he points towards the dove of the Holy Spirit, which floats above their heads in a truly unearthly and intangible celestial vision. With the other hand, he makes a gesture of persuasion: he seems to be explaining the purpose of his mission quite vigorously to Mary.

Although the event seems plausible in a distinctly earthly manner - even the Putti in the clouds do not alter this impression - the miracle is clear. Mary's innocence, underlined by the lily as a symbol of purity, is of such intensity that the spectator senses her quiet reservation, the excited anticipation of the prophesied miracle and her astonishment at the experience.


2Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38


2Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16

When King David was settled in his palace, and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies on every side, he said to Nathan the prophet, "Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!" Nathan answered the king, "Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the Lord is with you." But that night the Lord spoke to Nathan and said: "Go, tell My servant David, 'Thus says the Lord: Should you build Me a house to dwell in?'

"'It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of My people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth. I will fix a place for My people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance. Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old, since the time I first appointed judges over My people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies. The Lord also reveals to you that He will establish a house for you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before Me; your throne shall stand firm forever.'"


Romans 16:25-27

To him who is able to strengthen you in the gospel which I proclaim when I preach Jesus Christ, the gospel which reveals the mystery hidden for many ages but now manifested through the writings of the prophets, and, at the command of the eternal God, made known to all the Gentiles that they may believe and obey -- to Him, the God Who alone is wise, may glory be given through Jesus Christ unto endless ages.


Gospel    Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. Upon arriving, the angel said to her: "Rejoice, O highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women." She was deeply troubled by his words, and wondered what his greeting meant. The angel went on to say to her: "Do not fear, Mary. You have found favor with God. You shall conceive and bear a Son and give Him the name Jesus. Great will be His dignity and He will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of David His father. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever and His reign will be without end."

Mary said to the angel, "How can this be since I do not know man?" The angel answered her: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence, the holy Offspring to be born will be called Son of God. Know that Elizabeth your kinswoman has conceived a son in her old age; she who was thought to be sterile is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible with God."

Mary said: "I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say." With that the angel left her.


Fourth Sunday of Advent (Cycle B)

by Father Charles Irvin, M.Div, J.D.

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In this season of giving gifts, we need to pay some attention to the giving of our very own selves. After all, the word "present" stands for making one's own self "present" to another as a gift. One's presence is in the gift given.

Mary gave her very own self to God, saying: "I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as You say."

It was a costly gift . . . it cost her dearly.

In the final days of her pregnancy she rode approximately 75 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem on a donkey. It's hard to imagine a woman nine months pregnant getting up on a donkey at all, much less getting on and off repeatedly for a 75 mile journey on something far less comfortable than the seat in a Lincoln Continental. Then, upon arrival in Bethlehem in the middle of the night, she is only allowed a place for rest in a manger, a place to shelter animals. slaughter.gif (118951 bytes) Thereupon she delivers her Child, cradling Him in an animal feeding trough. Her gift of her self to God was costly.

Then she is forced to endure the frightful pain of knowing that little baby boys throughout the entire region were being killed on the swords of soldiers ordered to slaughter by a raging king, all because of the birth of her own Child. Hearing the shrieks of pain from nearby mothers and enduring it all in silence must have been horribly painful for her. How much does it cost to serve God's will?

Shortly thereafter her husband, Joseph, responding to yet another dream, packs her up along with her Child, puts them on a donkey again, and takes them on a longer and more arduous trip into Egypt where they, as Jews, have to live among Arabs and Egyptians who did not look kindly on Jews. There they live as alien Jews who have to be accommodated by Egyptians. Giving God the gift of yourself can prove costly.

Years later, after having returned back home to Nazareth following the death of the raging King Herod, Mary has to see her Son suddenly depart one day to spend an unbelievable amount of time out in the desert, and when He returns home He presents Himself to all the family and townsfolk as the Jewish Messiah. The people of Nazareth then and there attempt to kill Him.

From there it's three short years later to the scene where we find Mary at the foot of His Cross, suffering her own anguish and pain as her much misunderstood Son dies an agonizing death on the Cross after having given her away to be the mother of John, and our mother, too. Just how much was the gift of herself to God going to cost? It's one thing to give your very own self away, it's quite another to have your own son give you away to a stranger!

The giving of yourself to another as a gift doubles your risks. You are never free again to take care of "number one". As a matter of fact, you never know again just who "number one" really is. Wherever the one you give yourself to goes, you go; whatever happens to the one you love, happens to you.

This giving of yourself opens up a lot of questions, questions which can never be fully answered. It's not like giving money, or some trinket, or something that you've purchased from another to give away. Oh, no! It is tremendously costly and requires a whole lot of deliberate thought, prayer, courage and strength.

It also does the most good. For in giving yourself away a miracle happens - you find your self. It is in seeing your self in the other that you discover your self. It is in being "present" to another that you are, in fact, a gift or a present to them.

Mary models what being a gift really means. She gives to us a Christmas story that is quite different than a lot of other Christmas stories, showing us that the best gift of all is the gift of your self to the ones you love.

I recently came across the story of a father, a once poor man who became quite wealthy, who gave his son a high-powered sports car as a Christmas present. The son, not ready for the responsibility, went out and then totaled the car in an awful accident. The father, feeling sorry for his son, took the insurance money and bought him another hot car. The son went out and totaled that one, too, horribly killing two people in the process. One ponders here over the adage: "Killing with kindness".

Then there's the story of a different kind of father. This one, poor and without money, had a coupon booklet printed up and gave it to his son. Each coupon had printed on it: "Good for two hours of my time. I love you, Dad." Throughout the year the boy would tear out a coupon and give it to his dad who thereupon dropped everything else and gave his son his undivided love and attention.


Will your gifts this Christmas change you? Can you give the best gift of all - your self?

And will Jesus get a coupon book from you?


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