On the carefully programmed Advent journey to Christmas, the Fourth Sunday belongs to Mary. This is so because Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus, necessarily involves the motherhood of Mary. However, the story of that birth is reserved for Midnight Mass, while today’s gospel tells us how Mary prepared for that wonderful event by accepting the message of an angel, which meant allowing God to determine how she could be a mother and remain a virgin.
If through the centuries Mary has captured the imagination of the Catholic world, it is in large measure because she faced the mystery of God and said, “May it be done to me according to your word.” (1:38) Even her greatest privilege as mother of the Savior presupposes this radical trust and generosity on her part.
It is easy to ignore the mystery of God until the very end of life. It is also easy to live in fear of that mystery. However, human life will never be really successful until we learn to embrace God’s mystery with trust and confidence. Mary shows us how to do that and what wonderful results will follow.
Although we know very little about the “historical” Mary, her symbolic presence is real and powerful. In her case, symbolic truth presupposes an historical person but it reveals the universal and perennial significance of that person. It is a truth that transcends such limitations as age, race and gender as it reveals the meaning of Mary, Virgin and Mother, for all human beings everywhere.
As a virgin, Mary represents hope. Indeed, there are few images that capture the meaning of hope and promise more effectively than that of a youthful young lady. All of us, then, who strive to be positive and joyful and hopeful in a weary and despairing society, can look to virginal Mary as a model who is ready and willing to inspire and encourage us. As a mother, and specifically as the mother of our Savior, Mary is also the most perfect model of fruitfulness. She represents, therefore, both virginal, promising springtime and fruitful, bountiful summer. She conquers cold, barren winter in our hearts and leads us to a rich and meaningful harvest.
There is such a temptation to live off of others and to complain rather than to contribute. Constant griping and blaming others means an empty harvest. By contrast, Mary models for us a life that is wonderfully fruitful through loving concern for the welfare and happiness of others. There is no better way to prepare for and to celebrate the birth of Jesus!
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.