In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him 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.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing is impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
Perhaps Mary had stolen a few silent moments alone in the grotto behind her house to pray to God. While in deep communion with her heavenly Father the angel comes to her. Her holiness, her perfection permits her to recognize the angel as other-worldly, yet St. Luke tells us she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. A faithful and virtuous young Jewish maiden, Mary is very familiar with Holy Scripture and leads a life of prayer and obedience. She knows that God sends His messengers during moments of great significance. Gripped by uncertainty she questions why God is visiting her in such dramatic fashion? What has she done? Has she offended Him somehow? Gabriel quickly calms her troubled spirit commanding her to be not afraid for she is in fact God’s favored one. He states God’s will for her and also offers an explanation of just how she will soon become the mother of the Savior of mankind – “the holy spirit will come upon you …”
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Imagine that immediately prior to these words - to Our Lady’s fiat - all of creation stood still in hopeful anticipation of the words that would result in the fulfillment of mankind’s centuries long expectation. Imagine the evil one paralyzed by fear and anger now realizing that this was indeed the woman spoken about in Genesis. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel. (Gen. 3:15)
Mary, ever eager to please God knew that this responsibility would require great sacrifice; the first indication of the cross she must also bear. Accompanying this suffering are peace and joy; the peace and joy that can only come from surrendering our will completely to God, so that it is no longer our own, but His.
In this place of seclusion, this grotto, God, by way of His messenger, comes to Mary. It is here that the most significant moment in history occurs. It is here that the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us – Hic Verbum caro factum est – because Mary was ready, willing, and able to say yes.
As we continue our advent journey how disposed are we to welcoming God’s message into our own hearts? How do we prepare interiorly? Will we be able to say yes to what He has in mind for us? Do we fear the sacrifices that must be made; of leaving our comfort zone? Will the cross be too burdensome? In the midst of the ‘busyness’ of our lives, can we even hear His voice let alone decipher the message? We must quiet ourselves as God approaches us in our solitude.
From the great prophet Elijah’s experience in a cave atop Mt. Horeb we learn that God sometimes speaks to us gently and quietly. Then the LORD said, "Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by." A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD--but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake--but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire--but the LORD was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, "Elijah, why are you here?" (1Kings 19:11-13)
To recognize and hear His voice when He whispers to us, we must gaze inside ourselves and examine what we find hidden in the crevices. If we take an honest look at who we truly are, by entering the cave of self-knowledge, what do we discover? We may find our hopes and our fears; our strengths and our weaknesses; our sinfulness and our vulnerability. And then gratefully, like Elijah we may hide our face in our cloak because we, too, may hear a tiny whispering sound and be able to respond, here I am Lord, I’ve come to do your will. (Psalm 40:8-9)
Mary’s obedience and desire to do His will was built upon trust. She trusted Him completely. I am praying for that kind of trust, so that I, too, may discover His will for me at every moment and be ready, willing, and able to answer with nary a second thought, "may it be done to me according to your Word."
(c) 2010 Darby Fitzpatrick