The Annunciation, Caravaggio
Homily for Mass – Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa
Saturday 17 December 2011 – 4.15pm
[Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16; Ps 89; Rom 16:25-27; Lk 1:26-38]
In these final days of Advent, the Church’s liturgy draws us more deeply into the original Christmas … and in tonight’s Gospel we have the annunciation scene, nine months before Jesus was born. We consider the extraordinary thing that Mary was asked to do.
When we think about those occasions when some request is made of us, sometimes its fairly easy to say, ‘no.’ Particularly if the request is outlandish … but even when it’s not outrageous, sometimes we can be asked to do something that is clearly beyond us – clearly beyond out capabilities. It’s fairly easy to say, ‘no’ to those sorts of requests. “No, sorry, I can’t do that.” Other things are more within our capabilities, and so we have to weigh up, am I going to do this or not.
When the Angel Gabriel visited Mary, and told her that she would bear a son by the Holy Spirit, a son who would be called Son of God – I’m sure most of us being asked anything remotely like that would say: “No way, that’s out of the question!”
And yet, we know Mary’s response: Here am I, – she said – the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word. Mary shows an attitude of hospitality. She makes room for the Lord. She opens herself to receive the Lord … in her own body she prepares a place of welcome.
In God’s design, Mary was immaculate … she was not encumbered in any way with sin, and so she is able to fully put her freedom at the disposal of God’s plan. We are as free as Mary was to accept God’s will, the difference for us is that we are encumbered by our sins. Its our selfishness that closes us … that turns us in on ourselves … that doesn’t make us want to prepare a place for the Lord in our lives.
This lack of hospitality is seen in the first Christmas in that element of the story when Mary and Joseph can’t find room where she could have her child. Eventually someone makes room for them, even if it’s where the animals slept.
As we consider this idea of making room for God, of preparing a space to welcome him, we should remember that just a few weeks ago in the Sunday Gospels Jesus painted the scene of the final judgement. He said that the good and the bad that we’ve done to other people, we have done to him, himself. What we do to others we do to God. If we make a space for others in our life, we make a space for God. If we are inhospitable to others, we are inhospitable to God. And Jesus’ own words tell us that there are eternal consequences for that.
As we look at the nativity scenes on display in churches and other places, we look at the infant in the manger. We might perhaps think that its easy to welcome a baby. But we know that that’s not true … its not always easy to welcome a baby – why else, tragically, would so many abortions occur? And if its difficult to welcome innocent human life in the form of a defenseless baby, incapable of causing any harm to us … how much more difficult is it to welcome God when he comes to us in the form of our neighbour who irritates us; when he comes to us in the guise of the person who offends us, of those who ignore us or even oppose us.
Making space for the Lord in our lives is no small challenge! First we have to repent. Our sin closes our hearts and makes us inhospitable. It makes us unable to recognize when God is drawing near. We need our saviour to come to us to free us from that sin – to heal us, and to open us. Our saviour, redeemer and healer comes to us in our prayer, through His Word, and especially through the sacraments he has given us.
And we have the help of his Mother and our Mother. Mary’s openness to the Lord and His ways she expressed so beautifully when she said, “I am the servant of the Lord.” I am. We can ask her to help us say that now, and every moment: “I am the servant of the Lord.” With that statement comes a trust in God. Mary could say “Yes” to the outrageous thing that was being asked of her because she trusted. She trusted “right now” and she believed that if she kept trusting in every new moment, God would give her the grace she needed to keep saying “yes.”
That, I think, is the challenge for us. Our minds skip too far into the future and we see all the ways that we might fall short, and fail, and not live up to what’s being asked of us. And so we say ‘no.’ But if we can be like Mary, and right here in this moment, trust God and say “Yes … I am the servant of the Lord … let it be done to me according to your word” and then in each new moment, renewing that trust, and that ‘yes’ to the Lord.
Mary is not just our model, but she is our constant companion and intercessor in the Lord’s presence, even giving us her own strength, and faith, and love, and trust … so that we can prepare a space in our hearts and in our lives to be able to welcome the Lord as he comes to us, in grace, in the sacraments, and in His people.