Lectio Divina From the Carmelites
A key to the reading:
v. 26-27. In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
In the sixth month: This is a precise moment for those who have read the previous page of the Gospel, the meeting of the angel Gabriel with Zachary in the temple. But for Mary, unbeknownst to her, this sixth month is her “today”. As it was for her so it is for us, there is a unique today, the time of invitation to enter into the project planned for us. But this today is not an isolated time, it is connected to the times of others, each unique and unrepeatable, a today to be set alongside the other todays until such time as the Word of God is fulfilled.
The way of grace is very linear. The subject is God. The term of reference: a virgin. The intermediary: the angel Gabriel. Everything is named: the city is called Nazareth; the virgin: Mary; the man to whom she is betrothed: Joseph. Everything has a precise historical setting. The sixth month is that of Elisabeth’s pregnancy. The virgin is the betrothed bride. Joseph is of the House of David. God does not come haphazardly, he comes within the parameters already in existence, those human, drawn by people who have names.
v. 28. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour! The Lord is with you’.
The words of the Gospel, ‘He went in’, may be understood in two ways: he went into her house or he went into to her being. So, did Mary see the angel or not? She saw him and heard him. This is true since all that was said will be accomplished. With which eyes did she see him? The physical eyes or the spiritual ones? The mystery of a person’s encounter with God cannot be explained. It happens and that’s all. It is an encounter that leaves a sign, and herein lies the greatness of the event. She who is full of grace has only the eyes of the spirit, thus for her there is only one way of seeing, spiritually, that transparent look of the pure heart that can look upon God and not die.
v. 29. She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean.
Mary being disturbed is quite legitimate. The way she sees herself, even though she is full of grace, does not allow her to distance herself from others, and so she is not aware of being full of grace, for her it is natural to be what she is, faithful to doing good always and everywhere, faithful to that interior attraction that raises her on high.
v. 30. The angel said to her: “Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour.
Mary’s fear is the amazement of all little ones who are surprised at being the object of attention from someone important. And if this someone is God, how great then is that fear? So great that one feels one’s utter smallness and that one has everything from the free gift of love.
v. 31. You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus.
The divine plan is revealed: to conceive and bring to light and to name him. The Saviour is already there, in the words of the angel. How wonderful! Centuries and centuries of waiting are fulfilled in these two syllables: Jesus.
v. 32-33. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord god will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.
When the Lord approaches a person to call that person to take participate in his thoughts of redemption, he does so completely. What remains still obscure is the manner of the human cooperation, because the person remains free to concretise the fulfilment of God’s thought. The point of departure is: an “unforeseen” son. The destination is: the Son of the Most High, who will sit on the throne of David and will reign forever. The means for accomplishing this is your person. Now it is up to you to become the protagonist.
v. 34. Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?’
Mary asks of the angel the how of the fulfilment of the will of God. She does not doubt God, she knows that the Word pronounced by God is always possible. The how is what concerns her, what she is being called to be. She is certain that her desire and intention of not “knowing man” will continue, because God does not cancel the plans of his children, drawn up by their most authentic desires. She knows that her plan will fit into the plan just heard. But she does not know how it will happen. And so she simply asks to do exactly what has been asked of her.
v. 35. The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come down upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God’.
The angel explains. Mary will simply have to accept, because it will be the Spirit who will descend in her, it will be the Most High who will overshadow her, and the Holy one will be born.
vv. 36-37. And I tell you this too: your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.
The experience of Elizabeth told by the angel to Mary is nothing more than an occasion of connecting with history. Mary must have already known of Elizabeth, because both were preparing the way for the fulfilment of promise made to Israel: John the voice, Jesus the spouse. It is the same project.
v. 38. Mary said, ‘You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said.’ And the angel left her.
Mary’s reply is essential: Here I am. Her concentration on the Word pronounced to her is so great that she can only feel that she is a “servant”, a useful instrument in the concrete realisation of the will of the Father. Let it happen to me… this is nothing like a passive yes, it is a yes aware of the greatness of her involvement, a yes so deep that it brings forth the face of God in human features.
Ecce ancilla Domini; fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum!
Behold… This word is essential and full of life. No words are better suited to humankind than this being present, awake, holding one’s breath so as not to lose anything of what the mystery is sharing of Himself.
Let it happen… God’s choice is worthy of acceptance, but requires the deep silence of one’s whole being, let it happen to me… Mary knows that she is not the protagonist, but the servant of the divine will; she belongs to the group of servants that Jesus will call friends: a servant does not know what his master does. But friends do know. Whatsoever I have heard from my Father I have revealed to you.
The shadow of the Spirit that covers the tent of the presence on such a beautiful creature for her availability, will whisper the mysterious secrets of the Eternal. And the times that go on tracing new ways of grace will come to their peak when the Son of God will see the light of an infinitely small space for his power, the space of limitation and contingency. Mary, first cradle of the ineffable Word, first embrace of the coming light, has no other treasure than her humility; a hollow that receives the fullness, smallness that is called infinite, limited love that demands the embrace of the infinite.
1 Samuel 2,1-10:
My heart exults in Yahweh,
in my God is my strength lifted up,
my mouth derides my foes,
for I rejoice in your deliverance.
There is no Holy One like Yahweh,
no Rock like our God.
The bow of the mighty has been broken
but those who were tottering are now braced with strength.
Yahweh judges the ends of the earth,
he endows his king with power,
he raises up the strength of his Anointed.
Lord, let the gentle breeze of silence, the breeze of grace, carry away all the voices and sounds that gradually take my heart away from my own existence. May the luminous trail of your passing by intoxicate with your perfume the air I usually breathe so that I may seek no one but you. And when the ruminated syllables of Scripture, together with the events that form the memory of our encounter, will become the fibre of my flesh, the world will see you again, will see your face in the physical features that I shall give to you.
The limits of my being will tell of the prodigies of your power, unless I try uselessly to flee or avoid them, but I shall love them as the precision of my human uniqueness. I shall then come to think your words, speak your words, fulfil your words, because, by not fleeing from myself, I shall have met you where you are: in the depths of my limited being, in my inner self and in my essential silence, where love given brings forth love gift and creates bridges of communion.
Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
PREPARING OURSELVES TO BE THE NEW ARK OF THE COVENANT
SCRIPTURE READINGS: 2 SM 7:1-16; ROM 16:25-27; LK 1:26-38
Christmas is coming in just a week’s time and we all look forward to this celebration. For many of us, the most concrete way of preparing ourselves to welcome the Prince of Peace is to express it materially. We put up Christmas decorations, Christmas trees, and shop for gifts for our friends. All these external preparations are well and good. However, this is not the real preparation for Christmas that is needed. The truth is that the place that the Prince of Peace wishes to enter and live is not our house but the home within us.
Indeed, this was the same situation and mistake of King David. He too wanted to make a house worthy for the Lord. He was then living in a palace as he and his people had settled into the sedentary life of the Canaanites. Thus he felt guilty that his Lord and Master, that is, Yahweh, the true King of Israel was still living in the Tent where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. However, as the first reading tells us, God told the prophet Nathan to tell David, “Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in?” Rather, “the Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House instead.”
In saying this, God is telling King David and us that He does not want to dwell in houses made by human hands. No, He wants to live in the hearts of man. The truth is that nothing less than the hearts of men is a worthy dwelling place for God.
To live in our hearts implies that God reigns in our hearts and transforms us into people of love and justice. This is what living the life of the kingdom is all about. In this eschatological sense, all of us are called to belong to the House of David where God will reign in us through Christ.
This precisely is the mystery that St Paul speaks about in the second reading. Indeed, for St Paul and for us, Christ Jesus is the “mystery kept secret for endless ages but now so clear.” Jesus is the wisdom of God in person, the one in whom God lives totally. That is why we say that Jesus is the incarnation of God, the God made man. In Jesus, we see that God really lives in the hearts of men. In Jesus, we see the kingdom of God in person because we see the life of Jesus as a life lived in total obedience to the Father’s will, which is a life lived in love and mercy. Consequently, in Jesus, we can say that He is the Emmanuel, God who is with us. And we know that through His death and resurrection, He sends us His Holy Spirit at Pentecost to dwell among and in us permanently.
If that is so, the implication for us is that the real preparation for the birth of Christ is to make our hearts the very dwelling place for Christ to be born. Our hearts are the new stable of Bethlehem where Jesus was born 2000 years ago. This is the only place worthy for Christ to be born. Anything less than this will not do. Jesus does not need all the external manifestations of our love for Him. What He wants is a heart of love, a heart of compassion, a heart of God.
And thus, to prepare ourselves to be the dwelling place of God, the Church on this last Sunday of Advent invites us to turn to none other than Mary. Why? Because scriptures and Church tradition since the apostolic Church tell us that Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant. The old Ark of the Covenant, which housed the Torah, the Holy Books of Moses which is the Word of God, lived in the tents made by man. But Mary as the New Ark of the Covenant housed Jesus who is the Word and Wisdom of God, as Paul tells us, in her very being, her womb. We too are therefore invited to imitate Mary and make ourselves the Ark of the Covenant, the place where Jesus, the Word of God made flesh can live. Hence, we must now consider how Mary came to be considered by the Church to be the New Ark of the Covenant.
If Mary is called the New Ark of the Covenant, it is because she lived a covenanted life. This is expressed in the greeting of the Angel Gabriel to Mary when he said, “Rejoice so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” Traditionally, we have translated this as “full of grace.” Whichever translation we take, it is clear that if Mary is full of grace or that she is so highly favoured by God, it is because the Lord is with her and she is with the Lord. In other words, the covenantal life of Mary is that Mary lived a life in deep relationship with God. And this relationship and union with God is manifested not only in her disposition towards God but also in her relationship with her fellow human beings by her life of charity and service. For it is significant that after the annunciation scene, the evangelist, Luke, related how Mary immediately went to the hill country of Judah to help Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist in her old age. This, then, is what the covenantal life is all about: a life of deep union with God and others.
How then can such a covenantal life of Mary be ours also? Firstly, we are told that Mary was a person filled with the Holy Spirit. Indeed, only in Mary, do we have the same word “overshadow” that was also used for Jesus at the Baptism and Transfiguration. In other words, Mary, like Jesus, was certainly always living in the presence of God. Mary was conscious of God’s presence within and without herself, represented by the Cloud of God’s external presence and the Spirit within her. So like Jesus, Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. We too must make ourselves the temples of the Holy Spirit by being more conscious of God’s presence within us at every moment in our lives. Like Mary, we must live and move by the Spirit.
Secondly, the gospel describes Mary calling herself the handmaid of the Lord. To call herself the handmaid is tantamount to calling herself the servant of God. To be the servant of God is to be the servant of the Kingdom. Indeed, Mary once again reflects what her Son is called to be – the Suffering Servant of the Kingdom. In other words, like her Son, Mary made herself at the disposal of God to be the servant of the Kingdom that God wants to establish; that kingdom that was promised to her ancestor, King David. Following from this, we too are called to be servants of the Kingdom. We too are called to make the kingdom of God’s love and mercy a reality in our midst as Mary did.
Thirdly, if we are to be servants of the Kingdom, then the pre-requisite is that we be open to the will of God. Mary said in response to the angel, “let what you have said be done to me.” Here again, Mary, like her Son Jesus, saw that doing God’s will is the way to bring about the Kingdom. It is no wonder that in teaching the disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus linked doing the will of God with the establishment of the Kingdom, “thy will be done, thy kingdom come.” Indeed, to do God’s will is to live a life of love and service. God’s will, then, is the calling of every human being to live that life of charity according to the situation that one is in. It is our faithfulness and obedience to this very calling to love, like Mary and Jesus, that God’s kingdom of love can be realized.
Doing God’s will entails that each of us, like Mary and all the people before her, from the prophets to King David until Abraham, must accept the role that God wants us to play in His salvific plan. All of us are important and contribute to the realization of God’s plan of establishing His Kingdom of love in our lives. There is certainly a unity in the plan of God, and everything in life is guided by the wisdom of God. Our task is to respond generously to God’s plan for us so that together, God’s vision of a covenantal family of love can be fulfilled. Failure to co-operate with God’s plan will only delay the coming of God’s Kingdom. Indeed, we are grateful to Mary for giving that co-operation even when she could not fully understand the full implications of her commitment there and then.
This brings us to the fourth element of living a covenantal life, namely, trust. Mary not only lived in love but also in trust. Even if she could not understand how the incarnation could be possible, she responded by believing that “nothing is impossible to God.” It is this trust that kept Mary faithful to her calling and vocation until the end of her life. Even in the later part of her life, when she had to face the trials and rejections of Jesus and especially His death and crucifixion, she did not give up hope. She continued to trust that God will vindicate her Son and herself. This trust certainly reflects her deep union with God.
As Christians who are baptized in Christ and in the Spirit, we too are called to be the new tabernacles of the Lord. We are called to make Jesus present in our very being and in our hearts. The real birth of Jesus is not outside of us but really inside of us. To celebrate Christmas, the birth of Christ is to celebrate His birth in our hearts. Like Mary, it is more important to conceive Jesus in the heart before we conceive Jesus in the flesh. It is more important that Jesus lives in us in His Spirit than for us to be concerned with all the external manifestations of love for Him. And because God is present and lives in every man and woman, then necessarily, not only are we called to be God’s tabernacles of love but we are also called to recognize that Christ is also born and present in every one of us.
In this way then, we will truly be ready for Christmas, for when that day comes, what we celebrate externally will be but the expression of what we already experience and what we already are, for Christ is born in our hearts. The incarnation of Christ will therefore not simply be an abstract doctrine but a true reality in our lives because in us Christ continues to dwell in man, to live among us and is present with us as the Emmanuel.
- See more at: http://www.csctr.net/21-december-2014-4th-sunday-of-advent/#sthash.uGVBsfCO.dpuf