Lectio Divina: 4th Sunday of Advent (B)
Shaddai, God of the mountain,
You who make of our fragile life
the rock of Your dwelling place,
direct our minds
to strike the rock of the desert,
so that water may gush to quench our thirst.
May the poverty of our feelings
cover us as with a mantle in the darkness of the night
and may it open our hearts to hear the echo of silence
until the dawn,
wrapping us with the light of the new morning,
may bring us,
with the spent embers of the fire of the shepherds of the Absolute
who have kept vigil for us close to the divine Master,
the flavor of the holy memory.
a) The text: Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 He went in and said to her, “Rejoice, you who enjoy God's favor! The Lord is with you.” 29 She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, 30 but the angel said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God's favor. 31 Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His ancestor David; 33 He will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and His reign will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?” 35 The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. 36 And I tell you this too: your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, 37 for nothing is impossible with God.” 38 Mary said, “You see before you the Lord's servant; let it happen to me as you have said.” And the angel left her.
b) A moment of silence:
Let us allow the voice of the Word to resonate within us.
a) Some questions:
- In the sixth month: do my eyes see the angels whom God sends to visit me?
- Do not be afraid: do our worries arise from our fears and anxieties or do they come from our perception of some mystery hanging over us and involving us personally?
- Nothing is impossible with God: Generating is the work of God; accepting is the task of humanity. Do I make it possible for it to be a life that comes from the Spirit of God?
b) A key to the reading:
v. 26-27. In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
In the sixth month: This is a precise moment for those who have read the previous page of the Gospel, the meeting of the angel Gabriel with Zechariah in the temple. But for Mary, unbeknownst to her, this sixth month is her “today”. As it was for her so it is for us. There is a unique today, the time of invitation to enter into the plan for us. This today is not an isolated time; it is connected to the times of others, each unique and unrepeatable, a today to be set alongside the other todays until such time as the Word of God is fulfilled. The way of grace is very linear. The subject is God. The term of reference: a virgin. The intermediary: the angel Gabriel. Everything is named: the city is called Nazareth; the virgin: Mary; the man to whom she is betrothed: Joseph. Everything has a precise historical setting. The sixth month is that of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. The virgin is the betrothed bride. Joseph is of the House of David. God does not come haphazardly; He comes within what is already in existence, drawn by people who have names.
v. 28. He went in and said to her, “Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favor! The Lord is with you.”.
The words of the Gospel, “He went in”, may be understood in two ways: he went into her house or he went into her being. So, did Mary see the angel or not? She saw him and heard him. This is true since all that was said will be accomplished. With which eyes did she see him? The physical eyes or the spiritual ones? The mystery of a person’s encounter with God cannot be explained. It happens and that’s all. It is an encounter that leaves a sign, and herein lies the greatness of the event. She who is full of grace has only the eyes of the spirit, thus for her there is only one way of seeing, spiritually, that transparent look of the pure heart that can look upon God and not die.
v. 29. She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean.
Mary being disturbed is quite legitimate. The way she sees herself, even though she is full of grace, does not allow her to distance herself from others, and so she is not aware of being full of grace. For her it is natural to be what she is, faithful to doing good always and everywhere, faithful to that interior attraction that raises her on high.
v. 30. The angel said to her: “Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favor.
Mary’s fear is the amazement of all little ones who are surprised at being the object of attention from someone important. And if this someone is God, how great then is that fear? So great that one feels one’s utter smallness and that one has everything from the free gift of love.
v. 31. You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name Him Jesus.
The divine plan is revealed: to conceive and bring this to light and to name Him. The Savior is already there, in the words of the angel. How wonderful! Centuries and centuries of waiting are fulfilled in these two syllables: Jesus.
v. 32-33. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His ancestor David; He will rule over the House of Jacob forever and His reign will have no end.
When the Lord approaches a person to call that person to participate in His thoughts of redemption, He does so completely. What remains still obscure is the manner of human cooperation, because the person remains free to put into practice the fulfillment of God’s thought. The point of departure is an “unforeseen” son. The destination is the Son of the Most High, who will sit on the throne of David and will reign forever. The means for accomplishing this is your person. Now it is up to you to become the protagonist.
v. 34. Mary said to the angel, “But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?”
Mary asks of the angel the “how” of the fulfilment of the will of God. She does not doubt God; she knows that the Word pronounced by God is always possible. The “how” is what concerns her, to what she is being called to be. She is certain that her desire and intention of not “knowing man” will continue, because God does not cancel the plans of his children, drawn up by their most authentic desires. She knows that her plan will fit into the plan just heard. But she does not know how it will happen. And so she simply asks to do exactly what has been asked of her.
v. 35. The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come down upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God.”
The angel explains. Mary will simply have to accept, because it will be the Spirit who will descend on her, it will be the Most High who will overshadow her, and the Holy One will be born.
vv. 36-37. And I tell you this too: your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible with God.
The experience of Elizabeth told by the angel to Mary is an occasion to connect with history. Mary must have already known of Elizabeth, because both were preparing the way for the fulfillment of promise made to Israel: John the voice, Jesus the spouse. It is the same plan.
v. 38. Mary said, “You see before you the Lord’s servant; let it happen to me as you have said.” And the angel left her.
Mary’s reply is essential: Here I am. Her concentration on the Word announced to her is so great that she can only feel that she is a “servant”, a useful instrument in the realization of the will of the Father. Let it happen to me… this is nothing like a passive yes, it is a yes that is aware of the greatness of her involvement, a yes so deep that it brings forth the face of God in human features.
Ecce ancilla Domini; fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum! Behold… This word is essential and full of life. No words are better suited to humankind than this being present, awake, holding one’s breath so as not to lose anything of what the mystery is sharing of Himself. Let it happen… God’s choice is worthy of acceptance, but requires the deep silence of one’s whole being, let it happen to me… Mary knows that she is not the protagonist, but the servant of the divine will; she belongs to the group of servants that Jesus will call friends: a servant does not know what his master does, but friends do know. Whatsoever I have heard from my Father I have revealed to you. The shadow of the Spirit that covers the tent of the presence on such a beautiful creature for her availability, will whisper the mysterious secrets of the Eternal. And the times that go on tracing new ways of grace will come to their peak when the Son of God will see the light of an infinitely small space for his power, the space of limitation and contingency. Mary, first cradle of the ineffable Word, first embrace of the coming light, has no other treasure than her humility, a hollow that receives the fullness, smallness that is called infinite, limited love that demands the embrace of the infinite.
1 Samuel 2:1-10:
My heart exults in Yahweh,
in my God is my strength lifted up,
my mouth derides my foes,
for I rejoice in Your deliverance.
There is no Holy One like Yahweh,
no Rock like our God.
The bow of the mighty has been broken
but those who were tottering are now braced with strength.
Yahweh judges the ends of the earth,
He endows His king with power,
He raises up the strength of his Anointed.
Lord, let the gentle breeze of silence, the breeze of grace, carry away all the voices and sounds that gradually take my heart away from my own existence. May the luminous trail of Your passing by intoxicate the air I usually breathe with your perfume so that I may seek no one but You. And when the ruminated syllables of scripture, together with the events that form the memory of our encounter, will become the fiber of my flesh, the world will see You again, will see Your face in the physical features that I shall give to You. The limits of my being will tell of the prodigies of Your power, unless I try uselessly to flee or avoid them, but I shall love them as the precision of my human uniqueness. I shall then come to think Your words, speak Your words, fulfill Your words, because, by not fleeing from myself, I shall have met you where You are: in the depths of my limited being, in my inner self and in my essential silence, where love given brings forth love gift and creates bridges of communion.