On this fourth Sunday of Advent the Church turns to Mary as our guide for the Advent season. She is a beautiful model for us all of Advent preparation. In the life of Mary we first see and celebrate her preparation for the encounter with Jesus the Christ, the Word-Made-Flesh. From the first moment of her conception in her mother’s womb, the preparation for Jesus to enter into the deepest part of her interior being was begun when, by a singular grace, she was freed from original sin through the prevenient grace of the work of redemption that Jesus Christ would accomplish. As soon as she was born she was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem and consecrated to the Lord, setting her life apart as a servant of the Lord and allowing God to accomplish his purpose in her life. As a young girl she was constantly in the Temple, learning the Word of God, pondering God’s mysterious plan of salvation as it had unfolded in the history of the people of Israel. She kept her life oriented toward God in a rich life of prayer and contemplation. From Anne and Joachim, her parents, she learned obedience and humility. Thus, through this process of formation she was prepared as the one who the angels knew as “full of grace” and remained free from any effects of the corruption of sin. Mary is thus the Immaculata, the purest example of human dignity and grace that had ever been born and she was fully free to respond to the Lord’s invitation in her life to intimate and fruitful communion with him through his Spirit.
In following Mary’s example of preparation in this Advent season we are also called to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord in our lives through continuing conversion, purification and prayer. By the grace of the sacraments we are able to also fill our lives with grace so that we can better cooperate with the Lord in his plan for our lives. We are called to study the Word of God and ponder the mysteries of salvation that the Lord has made known to us. In this way we are preparing a way for the Lord in our interior being where the Word of God may take flesh in our actions and be exalted in our spirit.
When the angel came to Mary she is not only full of grace but also full of freedom. Faith has prepared her to be able to act and place her trust in God even though she doesn’t understand how God could possibly achieve his purpose in her life. She has learned a sure trust in the power of God and his word to accomplish his purpose. Thus she is not shackled by doubts and fears but is able to freely respond to the Lord’s request in her life. She lives in a true obedience of faith.
We also must seek to live in this freedom that comes from the obedience of faith and not allow the skepticism and cynicism of the world to limit our freedom of response to the call of God in our lives. Mary freely gives her assent to God and to his word at work in her life. We are called to respond to God’s word in the same freedom and love. As we hear Elizabeth proclaim to Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1,45) It is a blessing to live in the certainty of Christian hope and Advent helps us to ponder that hope and know in faith that God will fulfill all of his promises in our lives. There is a deep inner peace that we begin to experience when we freely place our lives in the hands of God, trusting in his Divine Providence, and letting go of the doubts and fears that keep us from acting on God’s word.
Finally, the gift of Mary to us in this Advent season as our spiritual guide is the example of contemplation. Mary ponders the mysteries of salvation that are unfolding around her and she rejoices in the work of God. Mary treasures the gifts, graces and blessings that come from God and she holds them in her heart. Mary knows that she has been favored by God and she can feel his Presence. Mary surrenders and unites her will with the holy will of God. We also must learn to ponder the events that are unfolding around us, to see God’s hand at work in these events as his will unfolds in our lives, to treasure the gifts and graces that God gives us in prayer and to store these things in our hearts and carry them out into the world. Advent calls us to ponder and treasure the promises of God, the events of salvation and the ways in which God has been near and present to us in our lives. May we all follow Mary to Bethlehem where we can greet the Christ child with her and celebrate his birth.