God comes to meet each of us in the secret place in our heart with the most powerful invitation to follow him and respond to the plan that he has for each of us to contribute to the life of the world, writes Denis Hart, the Archbishop of Melbourne.
Mary’s yes to the puzzling and mysterious designs of the Creator is an invitation to us to remain faithful to him in prayer and courageous in our acceptance of what he can do with the love of our mind, heart and will. ‘Here am I Lord, I come to do your will’.
The first holy places in Israel were those situations in which people had experienced the nearness of God: Moses and the burning bush; Abraham and his call to go to a place that God would show him; Moses and the Ten Commandments. Later on a memorial was erected at the places of these events.
Even later still, in the Jewish Temple, there were ten different degrees of holiness through which people could pass to signify their degree of nearness to the holy of holies, the Ark of the Covenant.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that Mary brought us the Holy One of Israel; the Lord she carried in her womb to bring us life and hope. Because of her welcoming of God’s plan, her acceptance of the Saviour, her total oneness with his will, Mary shows us that while places are important, it is above all in the human heart that we encounter our God.
Her own response: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let whatever you have said be done to me”, made Mary a person who welcomed others and led them to holiness. Her own personal welcome of God is the gateway and the mirror to us, who seek to learn how to say yes to God in our life.
Obviously, in our preparation for Christmas this means the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It means a readiness to forgive those with whom we have disputes. It means an effort to have time for people in the tumultuous rush of everyday. When Jesus was about to be born his parents found there was no room at the inn.
Perhaps our parallel might be too many worries, too many projects, too many parties, too much shopping, too many gifts, too many bills. All of these things can crowd into the empty place where God wants to meet us in divine fullness.
So Advent is an invitation to clear away the clutter in our lives, to make time to stop and pray and welcome God. If we do make the effort to make time, then we will be conscious that in the quiet silence we will find an ever widening welcome which God will fill.
Indeed, there is another challenge for us today in the words of Kathleen Norris, who wrote on the Annunciation in her book, Amazing Grace, in 1998, inviting us to treasure the story we have read in the Gospel and to ask these important questions:
When the mystery of God’s love breaks into my consciousness, do I run from it? Do I ask of it what it cannot answer? Shrugging, do I retreat into excuses? Or, am I honest enough to respond from my deepest, truest self in the place where God alone and I meet and say something new – a yes that will change me forever?
When we look at Mary, her faithfulness, which was so transforming, we can see that God led her to a greatness that she had never imagined because of that yes. She can lead us to a peace and hope and a use of our abilities that we too had never imagined was possible. We too can say and live: “I am the servant of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me.”