First Reading: 2 Sam 7:1-5. 8b-12.14a.16; Psalm: 89. R. v. 2a; Second Reading: Rm 16:25-27; Gospel: Lk 1:26-38
THE RISK MARY TOOK
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
The Mass for the Fourth Sunday of advent for this year falls on a peculiar date; the same date we celebrate the vigil mass of the Lord’s Nativity – the 24th of December. However, none of the two masses can be substituted for the other. After the mass for the fourth Sunday of advent; the Christmas vigil mass follows as from 6pm. The earliest time for this vigil mass is 4pm. Ensure that your Sunday schedules do not encroach into the time slated for the Christmas vigil mass.
Today’s gospel for the fourth Sunday of advent presents to us the Annunciation message of the Lord’s Incarnation. A gospel narrative we are very familiar with. The angel Gabriel’s annunciation message was joyful news. And Mary’s “Yes” to God’s will for her brought the world even greater joy. However, the risk Mary took in the entire scenario is often overlooked.
In the first century Palestine, the female gender ranks low in the social pecking order. It was a male dominated society with obvious masculine hegemony. The honour of every young maiden lies on the intactness of her virginity. There was a gruesome practice of stoning promiscuous and defiled young maidens by families in order to safeguard the honour of the family. “. . . if the tokens of virginity were not found in a young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has wrought folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house.” (Dt 22:20-21).
Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary played their role in safeguarding the virginity of Mary. In the Protoevangelium of James (an apocryphal gospel written about A.D 150); they brought Mary to serve in the temple at the age of three up until she was fourteen. Mary was betrothed to Joseph, a parental marriage arrangement. When Mary was greeted by the angel with the word “Hail” (the word used in addressing kings and prominent figures), she was troubled. And when the angel further revealed that she would conceive and bear a son; Mary’s fear heightened. This was why she immediately reaffirmed her virginity saying “How will this be, since I know not man?” Then the angel assured her that she will conceive not by man but by the Holy Spirit.
The angel’s message obviously rattled Mary. First, she feared that “Could my virginity be compromised?” Secondly, she was bothered by the disruption of this message to her marital proceedings. And thirdly, she knew the implication of conceiving outside wedlock. Regardless, Mary said “Yes” in submission to God’s will. This was the risk Mary took for the greater good.
In Mary’s “Yes” we see a young maiden with hope, faith, and trust in God. Mary did not know what lies ahead of her consequent to this turn of event; but she believed God. For Mary, it was not about the security of man but the security of God. It was not about human honour but divine honour. It was not about popular opinion but divine will. It was not about her personal good but the good of the world. Mary believed that God’s honour and divine presence supersedes every human tension and anticipation. Joseph may be upset, but he will be fine. She may be potentially at risk by the doubts of family and friends; but the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit will iron things out. Her virginal honour may seem compromised in the eyes of all; but the truth shall prevail in time. The apparent scandalous news shall become the greatest joyful news in the world’s history.
Mary’s exemplary life offers us the right attitude to approach the season of Christmas. An attitude of sacrifice for the benefit of others. If we are unable to take risks for the good of others just like Mary; at least we can make sacrifices. We must agree that most times, saying “Yes” to certain good actions deny us of certain individual selfish goals. Parents forego their plans and needs to provide for their children. Friends go extra miles to leave a remarkable impression on us. But what made Mary’s risk and sacrifice different was that she made her choice not due to any relationship-based influence or duty-bound responsibility but for the salvation of all. We should update our Christmas schedules and factor in plans to reach out to people beyond bloodline, friendship and religion.
Mary took the risk of accepting the will of God in honour to God who honoured her. She made this decision without any fear of human condemnation or judgment. And even if Mary feared any retribution at all; her faith and trust in God trumps every possible consternation. There are several decisions in life we often do not have the courage to make due to fear or derision. Like, standing for truth and justice, living and defending the faith we profess, condemnation of evil, and promotion of unconditional love. We sometimes neglect these values to seek human honour and approval for fear of losing certain privileges. But for Mary, the honour and approval of man is useless if it compromises the will of God. Just like Mary, we must approach life’s decisions in this way.
While Christmas is almost here, some of us may be battling with several disruptors. Like the death of a loved one, the economic hardship, our financial status, health condition, family disputes, marital crises, divorce, and several other unexpected disruptors that threatens the joy of Christmas. Mary was a woman of faith and hope. She trusted and hoped on God even when her future seemed uncertain. She had her fears and challenges in accepting the angel’s message; but she believed that God will iron things out. Do not despair due to the present disruptors surrounding you. Trust that the birth of our saviour Jesus Christ will iron things out in your life. Such faith and trust in God will give us the joy and peace we need this Christmas. And as we light today the fourth advent purple candle, the candle of peace; we ask the baby Jesus for a peaceful Christmas.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, give us the grace to emulate the exemplary life of Mary our mother as we await your coming. Amen.