December 24, 2017
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B
In the days preceding the beginning of Advent, the Liturgy gave us readings, as the first reading of the Mass, from the prophet Daniel. And really one phrase of the prophet Daniel can help us enter into the great mystery that is recounted in the Annunciation passage of today’s gospel (Lk 1:26-38).
In Chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel a dream of King Nebuchadnezzar is recounted, wherein the king sees a large statue, terrible in appearance, made of different materials. At a certain point in the dream, a small rock breaks off from the mountain and strikes the feet of the statue, so that the statue goes to pieces.
And the Word states that this small rock breaks off from the mountain “without human hands” (Dn 2:34). Also, a little later, when the prophet interprets the vision to the king, Daniel emphasizes the same thing: the rock detached “not by human hand” (Dn 2:45).
Also, something, new and great, happens to Mary, precisely because it is without man’s intervention. It is God Himself, in fact, who intervenes in history, in the life of this humble girl of Nazareth, and He makes a new thing: a new covenant, a new wonder, a new salvation, that is the very presence of God among us, His taking on our flesh and living among us.
Before sin, human life consisted in freely allowing that God intervened in its history, of which He was the Lord and the Author of life. Sin instead entered to undermine this dynamic, so man himself chose to manage his own existence by himself, without the intervention of God: the opposite of what was God’s desire.
But what man does by himself, sooner or later collapses, like the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. What comes from God, remains forever.
The new work, salvation, could only be this: that God intervened again and man, again, let him do it.
The entire Old Testament was nothing other than the search and anticipation of this event: man builds a temple, and then waits and prays, so that the Lord, on His own initiative, comes to dwell there.
But in the Virgin Mary, God does much more: He comes to dwell in a temple not made by human hands, in the temple that we are, which is our life, our body. And He does not come in a cloud, with a sign of His presence: He comes Himself, He comes in person.
Mary, in this, has an important role, not passive: we can say that she leaves us two instructions.
The first is to believe, and to believe precisely that nothing is impossible to God (Lk 1:37). To believe is to realize that this invisible hand of God still works, and comes just there where man cannot: he comes to beget life in the sterile womb of Elizabeth (Lk 1:36), in the womb of Mary who does not know relations with man (Lk 1:34).
To believe is to remain in this emptiness, without acting by onself, without looking for a way out.
And Mary does it by asking and seeking, communicating, placing her life on the line: God acts without human intervention, but not without the human. His hand stops short of the creature’s freedom, and He asks permission, and does not enter until after human acceptance: “Let it be unto me according to thy word” (Lk 1:37). To believe therefore is to listen, to welcome, to trust, to offer oneself.
The second sign, equally important, that we learn from the Virgin Mary is to accept to enter the time of preparation, a time of patience and silence, of concealment and expectation.
Human works are done in a moment, the works of God need time, and happen slowly: because what is new is born it needs a long gestation.
Man consumes his time in a voracious way, while God’s time unfolds over long intervals: He digs deeply, puts in deep foundations. It is the time of all necessary seasons because seeds bring forth fruit.
We can assume that Mary’s pregnancy was nourished equally by patience, faith, silence, listening, prayer, walk. And it brought Mary to see and recognize around her the places and events where the very hand of God did something new: in her cousin Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-45).
We may imagine that the Gospel of the Annunciation is a Gospel far from our life, too great for the little life of each one of us. But it is not so! The dynamic of this event, the dynamic of a God who desires to intervene in human life and simply asks that we let Him do so, without introducing too many obstacles, is the dynamic of faith, of our daily relationship with God.
Where this happens, life returns, just like the baby begotten in the womb of Mary, just like the risen life from the sepulcher. Also, there: the hand of man dealt death, and only the hand of God could restore life. And so it happened!
On the threshold of Christmas, we are given – not by hand of man! – the grace to let this happen also within us.