After reading the scripture passages for this Fourth Sunday of Advent, I reread last week’s edition of Something To Think About. In spite of the fact that last Sunday was Gaudete or “Joyful” Sunday, I gave a good deal of attention to the suffering which surrounds so many of us these days. Fortunately, I returned to last Sunday’s theme by also acknowledging God’s presence in all of this. I ended that reflection with this realization: Though none of us knows the direction our lives will take in the next minute, hour or day, we can be certain of God’s love, God’s embrace and the joy to be found in God’s company. Today, I find that this perception of things is precisely what empowered Mary of Nazareth to embrace her role as the mother of Jesus.
My admiration for Mary took root years ago as I lay beneath our family Christmas tree. While my mother put the finishing touches on the village which rested at the base of that tree, I nestled on the floor with a head-full of First Christmas images. I imagined Mary full of joy and completely unable to contain her love for the baby she carried within her. In my childhood innocence, I pictured Mary peacefully content, just as Hallmark depicts her on so many Christmas cards. Filled to the brim with peace, Mary needed only to bow her head in prayer and wait for Jesus’ birth. “God will be take care of everything,” I imagined her saying, and so I believed it was…
These impressions of Mary’s experience remained with me years later when I was part of our elementary school choir at Presentation Parish. We frequently sang Marian hymns and my favorite was The Magnificat. Our choir director, Sister Mary Angelista, not only taught us to sing this Latin hymn, but also its meaning in English. In this prayer attributed to Mary, Jesus’ young mother-to-be announces: My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; because God has regarded the lowliness of this handmaid; For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; Because God who is mighty has done great things for me… Mary’s prayer further convinced me that serving as Jesus’ mother was more of an honor than ones life work. Little did I realize…
A wonderful high school religion teacher, Sister Patricia Mary by name, taught me that things weren’t quite as easy for Mary as my childhood musings suggest. The poor girl was only fourteen when she was asked to endure a pregnancy out of wedlock. Her devout parents had raised Mary to be chaste and faithful to the Law. How would they deal with this news? Mary was betrothed to Joseph, a good and just man. How would she explain this turn of events to him? Mary must also have known that the politics of her day made life difficult at best for her people. Would talk of this child add to their devastation? In spite of all of this, Luke’s gospel (1:26-38) tells us that Mary responded to the angel’s message with, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” As I contemplated what might have moved Mary to this selfless response, I turned to The Magnificat once again. The second line caught my eye: …and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
Finally, I understood that Mary chose to embrace her certainly treacherous journey toward motherhood because she knew that she would never be alone. Though Mary knew that her worldly lot would be uncomfortable at best, Mary also knew that she would endure what lay ahead in God’s company. Mary trusted unconditionally in God’s faithfulness to her. When I was that young child lying at the foot of our Christmas tree and that preteen singing alto in the choir, I never doubted God’s presence. I held onto the knowledge that God was with me in everything. Regardless of what occurred, sadness never overpowered the spark of joy that was a constant within me. Over time, I allowed life to pry me away from that certainty. It wasn’t worsening problems which brought about my shift. It was my outlook that had changed. I’d allowed the doubt so prevalent in this world to distract me from God who remained at my side. Today, Mary’s faith urges me to ask myself if this phenomenon has repeated itself too often during Year 2020. Like you, I’ve I struggled with battling COVID-19, social injustice, economic uncertainty and political strife. Like you, I’ve also more than survived many of the 290 days since our stay-in-place efforts began. Those days which soared above survival-mode were the days when I acknowledged God’s company.
At this writing, I’m still organizing creatively safe ways to celebrate Christmas 2020 with our family. Disappointed as I am that there will be no houseful of revelry, I am smiling. You see, I’ve finally taken to heart Mary’s perspective. Regardless of what lies ahead, Mary insists that we have reason to rejoice in God as well. We really are in this together: You, me, everyone and God! What more do we need to celebrate a Merry Christmas?
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