Blessed fourth Sunday of Advent! A shift of focus in the Mass marks this last step towards the celebration of Christmas. In the previous weeks, the liturgy has centred on the call to repentance and conversion; John the Baptist has been the central figure and embodiment of this call. Now, in this last week of Advent, the emphasis turns to the mystery of the Annunciation, and it is Mary who takes center stage. This shift of focus and protagonists does not imply a break. Instead, it is a narrowing focus on what this Advent and Christmas seasons are all about: the birth of Christ in a manger 2000 years ago and the birth of Christ in our hearts today. How do we prepare for this? I want to suggest that the prominent figures of this Advent season, Mary and John the Baptist, would indicate humility as the main ingredient of this preparation.
The gospel reading for this Sunday tells the account of the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her that she will conceive the Son of God in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. To preface this amazing news, the angel says: “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favour with God.” (Lk. 1:30) It is because she has found favour with God that she merits to be the Mother of God. But, how exactly has Mary found favour with God? Well, during her visit to her cousin Elizabeth, Mary herself tells us how. In the Magnificat, her canticle of praise to God, Mary says: “He has looked with favour on His lowly servant.” (Lk. 1:48) Thus, it is plain that God looks with favour on Mary because of her lowliness; because of her humility.
Given that Mary was conceived without sin and is therefore free from its effects, she is perfectly humble before God. In other words, she perfectly understands who she is in relation to God and is consequently free from the self-preoccupation and self-centeredness that plagues the sinful heart. In short, God finds favour in Mary because only in her He sees a heart that is entirely free from self, a heart that has made room for Him.
As we prepare for Christmas, we are bid to make room for the Lord. He yearns to find our hearts ready to welcome Him, and it is thus that we see the significance of that dominant figure of the past weeks. The Baptist appeared in the desert to prepare a people worthy of the coming Messiah. Prepare the way of the Lord! he cried, and it is no mere coincidence that the way he proposed to do so was also humility. He urged people to repent from their sins and to amend their lives. In other words, to once again recognize their dependence on God, repent of their self-centred and self-serving ways, and stand in right relationship with Him. In short, to humble themselves before God.
We are but a few days away from Christmas. Let us take these last days of Advent and prepare. Let us take heed of the Baptist’s words, look to the example of the humble Virgin, and humbly repent of our self-reliance and recognize our dependence on God, so that the child who is to be born on Christmas may also come and take his abode in our hearts and that, with ever more room to dwell.
Santiago Torres – St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta
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