Opening the Word: Following Mary's 'yes'

On the final Sunday of Advent, after weeks of longing for God’s final judgment, we are invited to remember Christ’s first coming among us as the powerless one in the womb. The Gospel of Luke invites us toward wonder, as the once infertile Elizabeth greets the pregnant Virgin, who “is the mother of my Lord” (Lk 1:43). The prophet John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb with gladness, the Baptist already proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. It is from the city of Bethlehem (Mi 5:1), that most insignificant of villages, that the king shall be born.

During the season of Christmas, we will be invited to contemplate the gift of Christ’s coming. But, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, it is the mystery of human and divine life in Mary’s womb that is the source of our rejoicing. The Gospel antiphon for this day has the Church take up Mary’s salvific words, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Mary’s fruitful offering of herself as servant of Yahweh, the one “who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45) is the turning point of world history.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux describes the moments preceding Mary’s “yes” as creation waiting with bated breath, longing for the redemption of the world: “Only say the Word and receive the Word: give yours and conceive God’s. Breathe one fleeting word and embrace the everlasting Word” (“Homilies in Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary”).

In the last days of Advent, the Church looks to the Virgin, asking that her “yes” to the angel Gabriel might become our own, that we, too, might bear the Word made flesh in the wombs of our heart. We are called to follow in the footsteps of Mary and her Son, to give our wills over to the Father as a sacrifice of love. For the Christian, every time someone dying from cancer offers their death to the triune God, we hear anew Mary’s fiat. Every time a Christian in Syria sheds their blood as a witness to the sacrificial love of Christ for the world, we hear anew Mary’s fiat. Every time the Church baptizes a new Christian to life eternal, we hear anew Mary’s fiat. Every time a man and a woman commit to love one another in the Sacrament of Marriage, we hear anew Mary’s fiat.

Thus, the final days preceding Christmas are not simply a time to finish up the last minute preparations for family festivities. Rather, it is also the moment in which we make the final arrangements to receive Jesus in the womb of our hearts.

It is the fullness of time in which we prepare the world for the advent of the babe at Bethlehem, the “son of man whom you made strong for yourself” (Ps 80:18). A strength revealed in weakness.

The effects of this offering of love are already on display in the mother of our Lord. And because Mary is for us the icon of the Christian life, we are called to nothing less than the same faith, the same hope, the same love as the one conceived without sin.

May we join our voices with the mother of our Lord and the mother of the Church on Christmas morn, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed” (Lk 1:46-48).

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.