O KEY OF DAVID,
Sceptre of the house of Israel,
who openest and no man shutteth,
and shuttest and no man openeth;
Come and bring forth out of the prisonhouse
him that is bound.
Isaiah 7:10-14; Luke 1:26-38
MARY'S FAITH AND OURS
The prophet Isaiah spoke words of hope in a hopeless situation for Israel. The Davidic dynasty had become corrupt and unfit for a Messianic King. Apostates like King Ahaz (2 Kings 16) and weaklings like Zedekiah (Jeremiah 38) occupied the throne of David. When God offered King Ahaz a sign, the king refused. God, nonetheless, gave Israel a sign to assure his people that he would indeed raise up a righteous King who would rule forever over the house of David.
From the first generation, the Christian community (taught by Jesus himself see Luke 24) has understood the real and ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy and the unfolding of God's plan of redemption to begin with the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, this child is the fulfillment of all God's promises.
As today's Gospel indicates, those who were to be used by God to bring his plan to pass required faith and trust in his promises, as well as considerable risk-taking. Mary and Joseph, therefore, are examples of faith for us.
We need to grow to the point of really believing the promises of God, especially when we are faced with perplexing circumstances and seemingly insurmountable problems. God has not left us alone; he has brought us his only begotten Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Let us draw near with faith and take him at his word.
Looking at the response of Mary to the angel, we think of friends or relatives in difficult circumstances: struggling with cancer, separated from loved ones, depressed or discouraged, grieving the death of a loved one, or experiencing other losses. What can we say or do?
"I'll pray for you", "I'll remember you at Mass", or "I'll light a candle for you" are the kind of things Christians say. To some without faith those expressions might mean very little, while others are deeply grateful. The thing is that when Christians promise to pray for others, our promise is based on what the Angel said to Mary: "Nothing is impossible with God" (better translated as "No word of God is lacking in power".
Mary models the kind of faith that makes "I'll pray for you" really mean something. In his sonnet, "The Lantern out of Doors", Gerard Manley Hopkins, speaks of his and our concern for friends who for various reasons are no longer within the reach of any good we can do. Where we can't go, he says, Christ follows and cares; in his words, Christ is "their ransom, their rescue, and first, fast, last friend." One of the lessons of Advent is persistence in prayer. Because we believe nothing is impossible for God, we trust that he can care for others and do for them good beyond our little conceptions.
PRAYERO God, eternal majesty, whose ineffable Word
the immaculate Virgin received through the message of an Angel
and so became the dwelling-place of divinity,
filled with the light of the Holy Spirit,
grant, we beseech thee, that by her example
we may in humility hold fast to thy will.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen.
* * * * * * * * * *
And here is a wonderful passage from a sermon of St Bernard (1090-1153) which captures the immensity of our Lady's fiat:
"You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.
"The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.
"Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet.
"It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.
"Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.
"Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving.
"Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word."
Ex Homilíis sancti Bernárdi abbátis in Láudibus Vírginis Matris (Hom. 4, 8-9: Opera omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 4 , 53-54)