May the blessings of Emmanuel – ‘God with Us’ – be yours now and throughout the New Year!
“And Mary said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word ” (Luke 1: 38).
We believe that the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary took place at the moment she said “Yes” to God. That is why the feast of the Annunciation is placed on March 25th, nine months before Christmas. How old was Mary at the time? We don’t really know, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating. The minimum age for marriage under Jewish law is 13 for boys, 12 for girls. The official betrothal (far more binding than our modern era understanding of engagement) could take place a year prior to the full-fledged marriage. The Talmud recommends that a man marry by the age of 18. Therefore, it would not have been unusual for Mary to have been betrothed to Joseph by the age of 15.
Did Mary understand what it would mean to be mother of Jesus? That is the theme of one of my favorite Christian songs: “Mary did you know?” “Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water, that the child you delivered would one day deliver you..?” so run some of the lyrics of the song. Although we believe that Mary was given a special gift to never experience an attraction to things contrary to the will of God (her immaculate conception), that does not mean she received a gift of intellectual understanding regarding her son’s full identity and mission. Note how confused she was (Luke 2:49) when twelve-year old Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem and explained himself by saying “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” While this may at first seem to minimize the blessedness of Mary, it actually enhances my appreciation of her dedication to God and the divine will. Her ‘Yes’ was not based on understanding but on faith. St Augustine is quoted as saying “I believe, in order that I may understand.” First faith, then understanding.
A merry Christmas and happy New Year to all our parishioners!!
“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1). Today, the third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called “Gaudete” or “Rejoicing” Sunday. Since Advent is not a penitential season but a season of hope and expectation, today’s celebration reminds us that we have ample reason to hope in view of our experience of God’s goodness.
The note of joy and hope is especially marked in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah. Addressed to a people newly released from exile in Babylon, and coming back to Israel to find their cities in ruins, its beloved capital, Jerusalem, and its Temple, gutted, Isaiah proclaims a coming restoration, healing and blessing to them from God. In the part of this prophecy not quoted in today’s reading, he looks forward to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and all the other cities, and the re-establishment of their status as “favored of the Lord” and a “royal priesthood” (cf Exodus 19:5-6). God will once more broker a covenant relationship with them, but this time the covenant will be everlasting.“They shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs” (Isaiah 61: 7).
The Church understands itself as inheriting Israel’s mantle as a “chosen race, a holy nation, a royal priesthood” and therefore the recipient of God’s blessings. Jesus himself takes these words from Isaiah’s prophecy and applies them to himself, in his inaugural sermon at Nazareth in Luke 4:18. We, as followers of Jesus, are now the ones to whom Jesus brings good news, ministers healing to our brokenness because of our sin, and proclaims liberty to us who have been held captive to Satan, and the fear of death and hell our whole lives long (cf Hebrews 2:15). We have been called by him into a new and everlasting covenant with God by his blood sacrifice on the cross – note the words said by the priest over the chalice at Mass.
And we now are the “Bride” of Christ, following up the second part of Isaiah’s prophecy today. Jesus, who loves us, his Church, as a husband is meant to love his bride, with total unconditional love, is coming back to claim his bride at the end of time and usher into the everlasting marriage home of heaven (Ephesians 5: 25-27). This is what Advent point us to- not so much his first coming 2000 years ago, but his second coming at the end of all things. He expects to find his bride “sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ ” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). Let’s try our best not to disappoint him!
“A voice cries in the wilderness…” (Isaiah 40:3). This verse from our first reading this Sunday is quoted in Matthew 3:3 in reference to John the Baptist preparing the way of Jesus. We joke that, here in Ottawa, we have two seasons, winter and construction. (In truth, this now seems to have turned into just one season, construction!).
In Old Testament times, many an army built roads, often referred to as “the king’s highway” , which increased commerce (with accompanying income from taxes and road tolls) and enabled the army to patrol more rapidly in troubled areas. In Jesus’ time, the Roman armies were the experts, building roads connecting all parts of the empire. Think of our modern road system here in Canada. How many valleys have been bridged, how many mountains “leveled” with tunnels, how many narrow ways widened and rough ways made smooth?
We are called to be part of God’s road construction crew, preparing the way for others to draw near to God, and removing the obstacles preventing God drawing nearer to us.