Remember back to when we were children and excitedly played “Mother May I”? Each person was told he / she could take a number of baby or giant steps but could only move if we asked “Mother May I” and Mother replied, “yes, you may”. Just maybe this was a child’s game which portrayed the power of mothers in our lives. In each of our families, we all certainly came to know the power and wisdom, care and love of mothers. They played an essential role in our becoming who we are and how we care for others in our lives. For those of us whose mothers have been called home by God, Christmas is a particularly important time for remembering them.
Our scriptures for today invite us to be respectful spectators as we witness three mothers responding to God in their lives. Hannah found herself to be barren but believed with all of her heart that God could accomplish whatever God wished. She prayed for a child and was blessed with Samuel in her elder years. She sought God out in her time of anxiety. She openly and with faith expressed her need for God in her life. She listened attentively to God speaking to her in the circumstances of her life. She responded with loving affirmation to God’s action on her behalf. In gratitude, she dedicated her only son to God and God’s work in this world. In observing Hannah, we witness a mother of abiding faith who lived in the hope that God’s providence for her life would bear the fruit God intended. Her son would become a pivotal person in the history of Israel, leading them through a groundbreaking transition from a tribal society to a nation with a monarchy. In a very real way, this mother’s prayer, her faith and her strength would bring about a watershed moment in human and faith history.
In Luke’s gospel, we are privy to an intimate moment when two mothers express their overwhelming awareness of God’s goodness and love for them. We reverently stand beside Mary and Elizabeth, listening to Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s greeting. Elizabeth had all but given up hope of becoming a mother when God intervened and made possible what everyone else considered impossible. She would bear a son, naming him John. Like Hannah, Elizabeth would know in the depths of her heart that there was something special about her son. In faith and with great strength of character, she would dedicate him to the Lord and the Lord’s design for him. Her son would be a decisive force in human and faith history as well. He would be “Elijah”, returning to announce the advent of the Messianic Age. Prepare the way of the Lord. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world is here. God has fulfilled the divine pledge to save us. This mother’s son would spell the end of one era and the beginning of the final era.
The final mother in our watching and listening is Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus. We remember with some awe her deep faith, her living in hope even in the midst of unanswered questions, her attentive listening to God’s voice in her life, her profound humility before the glory of the Lord, and her overwhelming gratitude for God’s presence in her life, for God’s activity on her behalf, and for God’s ongoing Providence for her and her Son. She is so thoroughly open to the Word of God in her life that the Word literally becomes flesh in her womb. We are privy to this intimate moment as Mary stands before Elizabeth to offer the most profound prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God. When her Son became flesh, human and faith history took a decisive, once and for all time turn. The transition from darkness to light, from chains of sin to the freedom of God’s children, from brokenness to wholeness, from death to life is accomplished for all time. God has fulfilled the divine promise to come and save us.
Our Advent scriptures today invite us to pay close attention to the power of mothers in our lives. Certainly, our own mothers have a special place in our memories and hearts. Today we are reminded of three scriptural mothers whose faith, hope, trust, strength and perseverance helped form who their sons would become. In so doing, they continue to inspire us in our faith journeys on the way to our celebration of the Lord’s birth.
Fr. Richard Burke, CP, is a member of St. Paul of the Cross Province. He lives at St. Ann’s Monastery in Scranton, Pennsylvania.