Fourth Sunday of Advent
18 December 2011
My dear friends,
The Gospel reading today relates the familiar story of Mary’s response to the angel, her yes to God’s invitation. Maybe we should pause for a while to examine this response and reflect on it. Our response to challenges of all kinds plays a major part in shaping our lives.
Picture a southern town inAmerica. A father lived there with his young son and daughter. His wife had died. He was strict with the children but good to them and they loved him. He was a man of integrity, and an excellent lawyer. However, he made himself unpopular in the town by choosing to defend a black man who was accused of murder – the town was rife with discrimination against black people.
At the end of the street lived an elderly woman, who spent her afternoons sitting in her front garden. She gave out to the lawyer’s two children as they passed on their way to and from school. The children were very hurt by what she said about their father. One evening the boy decided he had heard more than enough. He jumped over her garden wall and wrecked her flower-bed. He then ran home and told his father.
He chastised the boy and said “Son, you should not have done that.” “I did it for you,” the son protested. “She’s a very sick woman. Now go down and apologise to her.” Reluctantly, the son did so. The woman accepted the apology and asked the young boy to read for her. She asked him if he would do this for her every evening. The boy was horrified at the thought but, when he told his father, he insisted that he must say yes to the old lady and he agreed to do so. Each evening, accompanied by his sister, the boy read for the old lady whose eyesight was failing. After about an hour, she used to get a violent fit of trembling. As the weeks went by, the fits became less frequent.
One evening their father told the children that the old lady had just died. The children looked at one another, thought to themselves “thank God,” but did not say it. The father explained to them that several years previously a doctor had prescribed painkilling drugs for her and she had become addicted to them. When she was told she hadn’t long to live, she decided to try to kick the habit. The fits they saw her getting were withdrawal symptoms. He told them that, before she died, she told him that the reading was a great support to her and asked him to thank the children.
The children were both moved and astonished by all this. “If we had known what she was going through, we would have been nicer to her,” they said. Their father told them that he was just happy they had done what they were asked and said they need not have any regrets. It was an important life-lesson for them. They did not realise the significance of what they were asked to do but they did it probably out of love, respect and obedience to their father. Often in life, we cannot see the full significance of what we are asked to do. In these instances it can be difficult to persevere, especially if the task is disagreeable or if those for whom we do it are ungrateful.
In today’s Gospel reading, we heard how Mary consented to become the mother of the Saviour. When she said yes, she did not realise the full implications of what she was agreeing to. She had no idea of the circumstances of his birth, that she would become a refugee in a foreign country soon afterwards; and that she would have to cope with seeing him rejected by the people he came to serve, and then stand by as he endured a painful death. It was not a once off yes; it was one that had to be confirmed regularly throughout her life.
Each one of us say yes when we take on commitments and responsibilities of one kind or another. When we said our original yes, we may have been taking a leap in the dark in the sense that we did not know the full implications of what we were undertaking. This may only be revealed to us gradually as we go along. In the face of the unexpected, and coping with human weakness, we may have to confirm our original yes many times and rely on the help of God to see us through.
Mary asked questions. The children asked questions. We may not understand everything but faith is not altogether blind. It is beyond reason but not contrary to it. We may not always get answers that fully satisfy us. But God is God and we are mortals. In the end we may, like Mary, have to bow to the mystery and allow God to take us home.
+Liam S. MacDaid