Sunday, December 20, 2009

Blessed Are You Among Women

The following is Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent.

Readings: Micah 5:1-4; Heb 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

Liturgical historians tell us that the season of Advent is divided into two sections. The first runs from the 1st Sunday of Advent to Dec. 16. The main themes of this section encompass a looking forward to the Second Coming of Christ and the repentance needed to prepare for it. John the Baptist shines forth as the primary figure; he dominates the liturgical readings. The second section runs from Dec. 17 to Dec. 24. and especially emphasizes expecting the birth of Christ. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the dominant personage here.

In this last week before Christmas the liturgy presents Mary through any number of lenses: she is listener of the Word; she is the ponderer who keeps all these things in her heart; she is the exemplar of faith; she is the poor daughter of Israel; she is the great rejoicer in what God has done for the People of Israel. Mary is always front and center as our Mother in many ways.

The key emphasis today lies on Mary as a "woman of faith," particularly signified in the words of Elizabeth: "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." (Lk 1:45) That is stated so succinctly by Elizabeth that we can often take it for granted. But what’s really involved in that statement? I’d like to imaginatively unpack it.

a. The key insight in the Annunciation account is that Mary came to a faith-filled conviction that she was to be the mother of the Messiah. The Gospels portray that in grandiose fashion by the appearance and announcement of an angel. But likely much of that is literary staging. Mary could just as easily have come to that conviction by her own deep meditation and prayer on the great Messianic prophecies of Micah and Isaiah. If there is to be a Messiah, and she firmly believed there would be, that Messiah has to have a mother. Mary came to the faith-filled conviction that she was the one chosen to be that mother. But what evidence to the contrary!

b. Why should the mother of the Messiah be a simple young Jewish woman with no standing in society? How much more fitting the daughter of a king or the high priest! No, Mary felt it was her and she likely shared that feeling with friends. Some, like Elizabeth, supported her and other probably ridiculed her as a dream-filled young girl. Mary did not know how it would happen.

c. What a shock when she began to miss her periods. How can this be? She’s never had relations with a man. Is it perhaps a false pregnancy, a sign of delusion? She had to be scared. And then the first time she felt the infant stirring within her, she knew it was real.

d. Then gradually she began to show the pregnancy. She had become betrothed to Joseph and she probably wondered how that would fit in with the pregnancy she carried. More doubts and wonderings, but her faith pulled her through. One can imagine the snickers of others and the jokes about Joseph. And yet Mary carried on in faith despite the derision.

e. Finally, visibly pregnant, she makes her journey to her cousin, Elizabeth, to assist her in her aged pregnancy----an act of love undertaken out of her own faith.

At last Mary’s faith receives some strong support and confirmation. Elizabeth assures her, "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." I like to imagine that Mary leaned over to Elizabeth and whispered, "It hasn’t been easy." Mary, our exemplar in faith.

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