Saying ‘Yes’ Like Mary This Advent, As We Prepare for the Christ Child
User’s Guide to Sunday, Dec. 20, the Fourth Sunday of Advent
Sunday, Dec. 20, is the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B). Mass Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89:2-5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38.
The first reading for this Fourth Sunday of Advent tells us the story of King David and his desire to build a Temple for the Lord. Through Nathan the prophet, God tells David that this is not his task. However, because of David’s fidelity, he goes on to say, “I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.” He promises David, I “will raise up your heir after you … and I will make his kingdom firm. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” This great covenantal promise by God to David is to be fulfilled, we know, at the coming birth of Jesus.
The Psalmist, who is traditionally David, reminds us of this covenant as he recounts the words of the Lord, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one.” And St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, praises the Lord, saying, “to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be glory forever and ever.” Our God has kept his promises “now manifested through the prophetic writings,” says St. Paul. So it is that in the first two readings today, the Lord reveals to us that he is the faithful one. But in the final reading, we see how the Lord’s fidelity can transform us.
In the Gospel from St. Luke, we read of the Archangel Gabriel’s visit to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He greets her with the words “Hail, full of grace!” Not being called by her name, Mary was “greatly troubled by what was said.” The Greek word translated here “full of grace” is unique in all Greek literature, and so it is difficult to fully translate. An alternative option is “one who has been graced.” Therefore, the angel’s greeting tells us of a past event already real at that moment in Mary. Her very identity is one who is graced.
As the reading continues, the angel tells Mary how she will be graced again with the birth of the child we will celebrate at Christmas, and then Mary does something interesting. In response to the angel, she says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” It is out of this identity as handmaid that she can respond “may it be done to me according to your word.”
In today’s readings the Lord reveals himself as one faithful to his promises, culminating in the Incarnation in Mary’s womb. But St. Luke reveals to us that Mary’s “Yes” to God is possible only because the Lord’s faithfulness has made her who she is. She is “full of grace” already at that moment, having been made so because the Lord was faithful to his thousand-year-old promise to David. As such, his fidelity transformed Mary into one who is graced, immaculately conceived, and she responds with the identity of the handmaid.
So, in these closing days of Advent, we are invited to ask ourselves: How have we allowed God’s fidelity to transform us and shape our identity? How have we received his graces to make us more faithful servants of the Father? And how might we still say “Yes” to the Lord as we prepare for the Christ Child?