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Today, we celebrate the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. Christmas Eve is a mere four evenings away. In our previous Sundays of Advent, we heard John the Baptist’s proclamation of the Messiah. Today, we hear Gabriel’s proclamation: “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.”
Finally, God was sending Israel her long-awaited Messiah. The fulfillment of the ancient promise was at hand. That verse from the Song of Songs seemed imminent: Lo, the winter is past and gone, and the rain is over and gone, flowers appear on the earth, and the time of renewal is come.
But there was an even greater mystery woven into that moment; another revelation even more momentous than news of any mortal king, with implications more far-reaching than any mind could imagine. Mary could sense it within that dialogue. Ordinarily, just like any other man, the Messiah should be conceived and like any other. But Mary is a virgin. And so, she presses the angel: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel replies: “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”.
This is a revelation unlike any other and given to the human race for the very first time. It was the first proclamation of God’s innermost identity: God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Of the great monotheistic religions, this is unique to Christianity. The One God is Three Divine Persons.
That revelation surfaces in their brief dialogue: “You, Mary, have found favor with God, alluding to the Father. You will conceive and bear forth the Son. Because the Holy Spirit will overshadow you.
Matthew, the evangelist, recognized this event as the fulfillment of another ancient prophecy, and records it explicitly in his account. The Hebrew word, almah, can refer to a “maiden” or “young woman”. But Matthew interpreted that ancient verse from Isaiah differently, according to its true context as the fulfillment of scripture: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us”.
That prophecy of Emmanuel is fulfilled in Jesus. He is God who is with us. In Jesus, the divine and human nature are merged into one. Our God comes to us in human flesh, like the words to a certain hymn: Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity, pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.
Mary knew the impact of such a revelation. In her son, not only would Israel behold her King, but creation would behold its Creator. The covenant given to Israel would consecrate the entire world to God.
We can sometimes forget just how novel that revelation really is. It was announced first to Mary, just nearly two thousand years ago. That’s modern history, when compared to how long the human race has existed. And for hundreds of years even after that event, the issue of Christ’s divinity divided the Church.
An archbishop named Arius promoted the heresy that claimed that Jesus was not divine. Incidentally, you’ve heard of Saint Nicolaus—Santa Claus—another archbishop. He’s said to have punched out Arius. That’s how passionate doctrinal differences can be with bishops. I digress.
There’s a song that’s quite popular, but not quite appropriate to sing in a Catholic Church, called: Mary, Did You Know? The answer is, “Yes.” Mary did know. She was the first human person to know. And she was the first to say, “Yes,” to God’s plan for redemption. “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; let it be it done to me according to your word”.
This whole scene is so poetic. When the world was first created, the woman came forth from man’s side. Eve was created from virgin Adam’s flesh. And now, in the new creation, the new Adam’s flesh comes forth from the new Eve, the Virgin Mary.
In these last days of Advent leading up to Christmas, this gospel passage is a beautiful one upon which we can meditate. We meditate not only upon the birth of the King of King, but also the profound revelation of God’s identity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The idea of God can seem abstract, at times. But our God chose to be near to us in the vulnerability of a human infant. That’s how personal he chooses to be with us. The great mystery of God's identity is given to us with such intimacy.
That same dynamic continues today. At times, the very idea of God can continue to be an abstract one. But he still is imminently near to us in the flesh of the Eucharist. May we today welcome the Eucharist—and God’s revelation—into our hearts with Mary’s same disposition. Let it be done to each of us according to God’s word.