During the season of Advent we have 3 major figures in scripture who act as guides to us in entering into the mystery of the Incarnation and serve as examples to us of Advent waiting and preparation. Our first guide is the prophet Isaiah who speaks to us of God’s promises to the people of Israel and who blesses us with words of hope and consolation for a remnant people who remain faithful to the covenant between God and his people. During the Advent season we hear the prophecies of Isaiah proclaimed at most of our masses. Our second important guide is John the Baptist who is the last of the great prophets and the one to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. He comes to us in the manner of Elijah with a powerful voice and a warning that the time is near and that we need to prepare our lives in repentance and conversion. During the second and third Sundays of Advent we have heard from John and reflected upon his words. The fourth and final Sunday of Advent we reserve to Mary who is truly Our Lady of the Advent. Her virginal womb is that place perfectly prepared for our Lord’s coming and she is found in that perfect attitude of prayer that is an example to us of the vigilance that we all must keep in our hearts through prayer to be ready to receive the Lord when he comes. At the time that Mary conceives in her womb through the Holy Spirit, her womb becomes the center of the universe. God has entered into the womb of Mary and made his dwelling place there. Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant that God will make with humanity through his Son, Jesus, who comes to save humankind from their sins.
This year, being the year of the gospel of Matthew, we encounter the mystery of the Incarnation as it unfolds in the life of Mary through the husband of Mary, Joseph. Joseph is a just man, a man of the Law and a man of deep prayer, and has certainly been chosen by God and prepared for the part that he will play in this great mystery of salvation that will be accomplished through the Incarnation in the womb of Mary. Mary is Our Lady of Advent in that her womb is that place perfectly prepared in love and holiness through which God can enter into the world and human history. Her womb is a place of “waiting in joyful hope” for the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
St. Thomas Aquinas gives us the proper perspective to understand the revelation to Joseph in a dream: “Thomas gives us Origen’s view. “He sought to put her away, because he saw in her a great sacrament, to approach which he thought himself unworthy.” (Catena Aurea at Matt 1:19)… In the Summa Theologica we read: “Joseph was minded to put away the Blessed Virgin not as suspected of fornication, but because in reverence for her sanctity, he feared to cohabit with her” (Summa Theologica, III, q. 3, a. 3 ad 2)…according to this approach then the angel’s instruction to Joseph is not understood as revealing Mary’s innocence as much as it is a revelation of God’s plan that Joseph should not be afraid because God has ordained it that he should play a part in the birth of the Messiah.”
The virginal conception of the Incarnate Word in the womb of Mary is God’s plan for entering into our human history and accomplishing the work of salvation. This conception is not from a horizontal relationship between a man and a woman but from a vertical relationship between God and woman, Mary the New Eve. Like Joseph we should not look on Mary with suspicion or scandal but with great reverence and humility for the chosen role that she will play in the birth of Jesus Christ. Like Joseph we need to not be afraid to take Mary into our hearts and home and to guard the mystery there. In this way we can play our part in preparing the way for Jesus the Christ to enter into human history and to accomplish his work of salvation. By responding in faith rather than fear and seeking to understand in faith according to God’s promise given to Israel in sacred scripture rather than in trying to make it fit our limited human understanding and knowledge, we can be prepared for the wonder of God’s merciful love as it is revealed in the virginal womb of Mary.
Mary is an Advent sign to us of God’s patient work among us in preparing the way for the coming of the Christ. In her womb the great sacrament of God’s gift of salvation is being perfectly formed for its fulfillment in the birth of the Christ child. When we have received her into our hearts and home we are truly ready to accept the gift of God’s love that is offered to us at Christmas.