In the long process through which the Lord guided the human family and prepared us for the coming of our Redeemer, the arrival of Mary is the final step. So in Advent we pay particular attention to Mary; she is the best example of what it means to “prepare the way of the Lord.” Today we ponder once again the Gospel account of the Annunciation – a remarkable event, a turning point in human history, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
For the Word to “dwell among us,” he needs a worthy dwelling place. Of course, he has always been spiritually present in the world. In this sense, all of creation is his dwelling place. Everything that has ever existed came into being and remains in existence through him. But when God sends Gabriel to Nazareth, something new is about to begin: now the Word desires to be physically present in creation. The eternal Son of the Most High desires to come into time as a Son of Man. This is why he needs a dwelling place. As God he is everywhere, but as man, he must be somewhere. The first “somewhere” is the womb of a humble virgin. Later on, Jesus would one day say that “the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head,” but when he is first conceived, he has a singular place where he is welcome and secure. His mother Mary is the true dwelling place of God.
Luke’s account of the Annunciation twice mentions the name of King David. First, Mary is introduced as belonging to the “house of David” through her betrothal to Joseph. Second, Gabriel tells Mary that the Lord will give to her Son “the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” This shows us that the role of David is an important key to understanding who Jesus is. The liturgy helps us reflect further on this by giving us today’s first reading, a passage which reminds us of the great promise that the Lord gave to King David.
David had a growing sense that there was something out of order in his kingdom. He was settled in his beautiful cedar palace, and there was peace in the land, but the Ark of the Covenant, the most sacred sign of the Lord’s presence among his people, was still under a mere tent. David’s idea is that the Lord should have a house, a palace! Surely the Lord deserves a better house than does the king! David’s intuition gives us a good point to reflect on, especially in Advent. We can ask ourselves if we are really giving the Lord a worthy place in our lives. Are we sitting in the center while the Lord is left out on the margin? Have we been using Advent to prepare a place for the Lord, or have we been building up for ourselves a cedar palace of self-will and self-glorification?
Although David’s proposal to build the Lord a house is good, the Lord has something much greater in mind. His ways are above our ways, and his thoughts are above our thoughts (cf. Is 55:9). The Lord chooses this moment to reveal that his plan for David is far above David’s plan for the Lord. The prophet Nathan declares: “The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you…. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.” We learn from this that the Lord is not so interested in buildings; he is much more interested in a different kind of “house” – the human family, represented in this case by David and his descendants. The Lord wants to dwell not only in the buildings we build for him, but in us, in our hearts. This is the house where he wants to reign forever.
Mary’s encounter with the angel shows us how this really works. Mary has a desire to provide a beautiful dwelling place for God, but she has no illusion that she can do it on her own. She does not think of herself as a heavenly queen who deserves a cedar palace but as a lowly handmaid of the Lord. This is why the angel’s exalted greeting leaves her “greatly troubled” rather than consoled. How can she accept the preposterous idea that she is to be the mother of the Messiah? Only when she is assured that it will not be her work at all, but will be accomplished by the power of the Most High. Pope Francis says in this week’s Spiritual Reflection, “Mary is truly humble and does not try to be noticed. She recognizes that she is small before God and she is happy to be so. At the same time, she is aware that the fulfillment of God’s plan depends on her response, and that therefore she is called to accept it with her whole being.”
Like Mary, but with much less fervor, we want our hearts to be a beautiful dwelling place for God. However, we cannot make ourselves good enough to be worthy of him. Not only are we too lowly, we also suffer the defilement of our sins. It is impossible for us! Yet nothing is impossible with God. He wants to make us his own dwelling place, and he provides all the grace we need for it to happen. The one essential requirement is our total ‘yes’ to his will. When we say, “may it be done to me according to your word,” we open the door of our hearts for the immeasurable power of God to work in us. This is the hope and the joy of all who say “yes” to God in faith. This “yes” is the heart of the First Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation, and the heart of our readiness for the Lord to come to us this Christmas.
Is the dwelling place that I am preparing for the Lord a cedar palace of self-will and self-glorification? Am I striving to be humble, like Mary, knowing that I am small before God and yet happy to be so? Is my response to God’s will a total “yes”, in imitation of Mary’s “Fiat”?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.