Below is the text of my first homily, given for the Fourth Sunday in Advent.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT – YEAR B
Luke 1:26-38 – The Annunciation
‘In an age of speed, nothing could be more invigorating than going slowly. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention, and in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.’ – Pico Iyer (adapted)
Like most people, I used to think that life was about finding happiness. “We don’t mind what you do, son,” my parents would tell me, “as long as you are happy.” At that time I was actively seeking, and happiness was near the top of my list.
At one point, I accidentally stumbled on a secret piece of advice that I have forgotten many times, but try to remind myself of whenever I can. It is this: “I don’t care about happiness!” Now that might sound crazy, but when I honestly said that to myself for the first time what I was actually doing was letting go of the pursuit. It was then that I recognised that what I was seeking was already there, present within me. So it is with God.
Advent is the season of the exalted secret. Within the darkness and hiddenness of the womb is where all the excitement is going on.
In today’s reading, the Annunciation to Mary, the angel announces that God is reaching out to the world. God is extending His divine love into and through the barriers of arrogance, through our enviousness, desperation, and grief; through our possessiveness and confusion.
God has announced his intention to re-form His covenant with humanity, through the humility and faithfulness of this one young woman. This is not the beginning of the story, but it is a beginning; a beginning woven within Mary and her response to God’s call on her life. Today, the angel Gabriel announces news of the imminent beginnings of God’s Kingdom on Earth.
Great as this news is, notice that it is not announced in triumphant fanfare for all to hear. It is whispered, in private, by an angel of God.
‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee!’
We hear that Mary was perplexed at the way that she was greeted, and the angel said to her “Do not be afraid.” God’s call on our life can be frightening, it can be unsettling and we, in our confusion and need for control so often turn away, back to the patterns of behaviour so ingrained in us over so many years: Our familiar and misguided ways of being.
‘Behold the Handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word’.
Mary’s response to God’s call on her life has been held up to us by the church as a model to follow in our own responses. One that is full of grace, and favoured by God. Through her example, we are led to a life of devotion, to God and to our neighbours who we are called to love.
The ‘Yes’ that Mary offered was not “Yes, I will do this”, but “Yes, I will gently move aside and allow this to happen in and through me.”
Through humbling herself, Mary was exalted. Mary became for us the living temple through which God humbly entered His own creation.
Christmas is a time of renewal. Our Hope is in God made flesh, and our faith is in humbly turning away from ourselves to pay attention to God whispering in our lives.
The humility of Mary is in the recognition of herself as the one who will never stand against the radiant love of God, for there can be no bounds to the infinity of His love. She lifted herself up to God as the one through whom this divine love was to be poured into Creation in the person of Jesus Christ.
We are all called to be Mary, we are all called to say Yes to God in this way, giving our consent to the presence of God in our lives, and allowing Christ to be born into the world through us.
To follow Christ is to sell all that we have, a message the world is loath to hear, particularly at Christmas. We must empty ourselves so that God may work through us. Our life of following in the Way of the Cross is a life of continual conversion, the daily renewal of your decision, with Mary, to say Yes to God.
At Christmas, we will celebrate and remember the gift God gave us in love: Himself. Today, still in Advent, we celebrate and remember the gift Mary gave God: His humanity.
The gifts that we give at Christmas, as beautiful and thoughtful as they are, will ultimately degrade, break or become lost. They are merely symbolic of the true gifts that we give: the gift of love we are called to have for one another.
Now, of course, I’m sure you’ll immediately think of a few people in your life you find pretty difficult to love. And that’s ok. All you need to do is to say to God, ‘Look, I find myself unable to love this person, but Lord you love them. Please love them through me.’
If there is only one message of the Gospel, it is the message of the love of God. And if there is only one characteristic by which the world recognises us as Christians, it is how we love each other and those we meet along the way.
God chose to enter the world as a man, and Mary gave her assent, choosing to fully participate in the incarnation of the Lord. Christ is not forceful. Christ is gentle. He asks our permission to enter our lives, and through us, to enter the world. Once we give that permission, a seed is planted and our lives slowly grow into the shape of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
As we draw closer to the Eucharist this morning, let us lift up our hearts as a chalice to the Lord. Let us allow Christ to fill us with His grace. Let us be vulnerable in faith before God and let the knowledge of the imminent birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ allow us to love one another in humility.
May we each become bearers of Christ this Christmas, living by the beauty of Mary’s example. Let us say Yes to God and allow Jesus, the Living Word to be born into the world through us.
The Lord be with you.