Fourth Sunday of Advent
The Gospel text we are given today on this Fourth Sunday of Advent is the story of the Annunciation to Mary that she is invited to become the Mother of God’s Son. Mary’s first reaction to these words of the Angel Gabriel is one of fear. Her fear must have been very noticeable for the Angel immediately says to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
I can’t help but suspect that Mary’s fear wasn’t reduced very much by this reassurance. After all the Angel went on to describe what God was asking of her. In fact, Mary responded at first to the Angel by pointing out that what the Angel was asking was quite impossible for she had not had any relations with a man. But the Angel reassured her that the child would be the product of the Holy Spirit and then revealed that her cousin, Elizabeth, who had for so many years been barren, was with child. “For nothing is impossible for God.”
Mary meekly accepted this task with trust in God. The reading doesn’t say anything about her original fear but there were many difficult obstacles to be overcome as she moved forward to fulfill “the plan.” I can’t believe that Mary was not fearful about having to tell Joseph of her pregnancy. Joseph surely responded with deep disappointment as he struggled with his response. He was determined not to punish Mary with public stoning and thought perhaps a quiet setting their plans for marriage aside was the wisest, and most compassionate, approach. It was only the appearance of an angel in his dreams that gave him the courage to bring Mary into his household. No doubt Mary agonized with Joseph as he prayed his way through his disappointment.
Throughout her life, Mary often struggled with dangerous events that were totally out of her control. Even with her deep faith there’s no way that fear didn’t seize her from time to time. Yet, she never let her fear overcome her commitment to her Son.
As we contemplate these early experiences of Mary and Joseph as they dealt with the frightening and unexpected challenges that God invited them to embrace, our prayer these days could be for the courage we need at those moments of disappointment or unexpected difficult events that are part of our lives.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of retreats at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.