4th Sunday of Advent Year B
4th Sunday of Advent
On this 4h Sunday of Advent, the Church speaks to us of the most important of the Advent characters. In the past few weeks Isaiah and John the Baptist have been telling us to prepare the way of the Lord, to get ready for his coming.
Now on this 4th Sunday, as we get closer to Christmas, we hear from Mary the Mother of God. The one who is, herself, the vessel through which Christ will come into the world.
The Church fathers made a comparison between Mary the Mother o the Church and Eve the mother of all the living. In fact they say that Mary is the New Eve, the one who undoes the damage done by Eve. Therefore to understand Mary and the significance of her as an Advent figure we have to look a little bit at the story of Adam and Eve.
Go back to that familiar tale from the book of Genesis; God placed our first parents in a garden. He gave them free reign to eat of all the fruits and trees in the garden, except for one.
A lot of stress has been placed on what was forbidden but they had a huge scope of permission. They are given the permission to enjoy the garden completely. Our God wants us to be fully alive.
St Iraneaus; “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
God wants us to flourish and the garden stands for everything can makes us blossom; art, literature, science, sports and business… all the things that make life rich and wonderful. That’s what God wants for us.
So what about that prohibition? Why does God say you must not eat from the tree of good and evil?
One thing we do know is how not to read that prohibition because we hear in the book of Genesis precisely how the devil interprets it. He says; I know why God does not want you to eat of that tree. Because if you do you will be like him, knowing good and evil. In other words, God is jealous of you. God does not want you to be fully alive. In fact, he is a rival, therefore you must grasp from him, lest he dominate you.
This is as old as that Greek myth of Prometheus. The god’s of Mt Olympus have this great gift of fire and they don’t want us to have it. Prometheus climbs Mt Olympus and he steals the fire from the gods and he spreads it out on the earth. The gods are angry and they punish him for eternity.
There is the old myth that the gods are rivals to us, in competition with us. This is precisely what the serpent says to Adam and Eve. You must grasp, lest you be dominated by God. You must take what God does not want to give to you.
How should we read it? Why does God say; you must not eat of this tree?
3 musicians can help us here.
Daniel Beruboy, the conductor of the Chicago symphony. The John Coltrane, one of the greatest of the jazz saxophonists. The 3rd with Eric Clampton. All 3 of these very different musicians said this same thing.
I have heard so many great musicians say so often this; “We make the most beautiful music precisely when, the instrument plays us”.
A musician mayhave studied and practiced, have done all they can do to master the instrument but at the end of all their striving, they allow themselves to be carried. They allow themselves to be carried beyond what hey can accomplish and achieve. At that moment their music is the most glorious and the most beautiful. The best things in life come when at the end of our striving we are ready to receive a gift.
Why does God say you must not eat of that tree?
Not because he is keeping something from them, that is the old false myth. Rather he wants them to be fully alive. That will only happen when they accept a gift.
What is original sin? Grasping what was meant to be received. From that has come all the suffering of the human race. We grasp at the gifts that God wants to give us.
In the story of the Annunciation notice how the angel addresses her; “Hail Mary full of grace..”… “gratia” in Latin means a gift freely given.
Mary is addressed as someone who is apt to receive gifts. She is full of grace, she is someone who is ready to receive.
What is he problem with Adam and Eve? They grasped at God.
The angel tells her that she is to be the mother of the Son of God.
Notice Mary’s question then, “How is this possible, for I do not know man?”
Mary here is full of a good curiosity and questions. How is this going to happen? Her mind, in other words is lit up. God wants his people fully alive. He wants us using all of our powers. Here is Mary using her powers of mind.
Then the angel tells her something; “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the most High will overshadow you”.
What he is saying is that she will be taken somewhere where you cannot go on your own.
God is not trying to put us down, to suppress us. God is trying to elevate you to a place where you could not go on your own. The Holy Spirit of God will “overshadow’ you. Here is the language of grace. Here is the language that all of us baptized are meant to hear. At the end of the day you must allow yourself to be carried, to be loved.
At the end of the Gospel of John, St Peter is talking to the risen Christ. “When you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt around you and take you where you would rather not go.”
When you were a young man you ran your own life, on our own terms. Seeing things according to your own perceptions. There is nothing wrong with that, God wants us fully alive but when you are an old man, somebody else will lad you to places you wouldn’t have gone on your own. That somebody else is the Lord God. The Holy Spirit will overshadow you and overpower you. And take you where you could not go on your own.
Mary is willing, allowing herself to be carried.
“Elizabeth your kinswoman who was thought to be sterile is now in her 6th month…for nothing is impossible to God”.
“Faith is a passion for the impossible”said Soren Kierkegaard
It doesn’t mean for the irrational. It means a willingness to entertain that which my mind can’t grasp on its own, a willingness to think out of the box, to look at a possibility beyond possibility. It’s a willingness for adventure.
Elisabeth in her old age is pregnant, things that you never deemed possible are possible through the power of God. When you allow your mind and your will to be carried where they can’t go on their own.
Here Mary is the true example for Advent faith. A passion for the impossibly great things that God wants to accomplish in and through us.
Mary says; “Let it be done to me according to thy word..”.
Eve grasped, she took, she seized. Mary says, to the alluring power of the Holy Spirit, let it be done to me. This is not passivity. This is not suppressing her powers. Rather it is to embrace adventure.
Advent is all about adventure, we are waiting for the arrival of the Son of God. We must be willing to be taken by the Son of God, where we cannot go on our own. Acquiescence to adventure, that’s the undoing of Eve, that’s the heart of the Christian story.
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