18 Dec 2011

18th December 2011 - 4th Sunday of Advent

On this weeks programme, John is joined by Shane and Michael as we reflect on the closing days of Advent and possible things to do in the final spiritual preparation for Christmas. We have our usual reflections on this weeks Sunday gospel as well as some quick notices.

This weeks podcast is available HERE.


John and his guests go through a reminder of what spiritual preparation that we can do for Advent including joining in the O Antiphons from 17th to 23rd December, a reminder to consider going for Confession in preparation for the great feast, and to continue to explore the Jesse Tree.

Gospel - Luke 1:26-38

"I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done unto me. 

This week we have one of the two most important stories from Scripture, the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel to Mary that she was to be the Mother of God (which is one of the most depicted scenes in religious art). It is a very familiar gospel that we hear often from Luke, in fact we heard in a few weeks back as the gospel for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. But there in lies the danger, familiarity can breed contempt, so we need to be very aware and attentive to the proclamation and mediation on this piece of scripture.

It is a very intense piece of writing where you could spend hours reflecting on each line, almost each word seeking to understand but to also see how it speaks to us 2000 years later, for we believe that Scripture is still the voice of God speaking to us as much now as when the original events recounted occurred.

Luke is one of the main gospels for the infancy narrative and has a very Marian focus which sometimes can put us off on reflecting on it, we tend to see it as Mary's story, Mary's event. Luke's account of the Annunciation is very much built upon the experience and language of the Old Testament and demonstrates the fulfillment of the prophets and the law especially the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

"Sent by God" - Are we being sent to others in our community? We may not be angels but we are the hands and feet of God in this world today, are we living out that responsibility to be messengers of God's love to those we meet in our daily lives?

"Hail, full of Grace" - the Angelic Salutation, which to our ears is more often the first line of the great Marian prayer, the Hail Mary. Each time we pray for Mary's intercession as we worship her Son, we echo the first greeting of the heavenly messenger. Of course, it is also a reminder to us of the feast we celebrated on December 8th - the Immaculate Conception - here we seem to have scripture reminding us why we say Mary is immaculate or "full of grace" - not through her own merits or so that she can dispense grace but rather through the merits of her Son and the gift of salvation that was poured out for us on the Cross on Calvary. But Mary is recognised as being the first beneficiary of her Son's gift to a fallen humanity.

"The Lord is with you" - a great Old Testament prayer and benediction and very much a reminder to us to live in the now.  The prayer is not that God has been or will be with us, it is a reminder that She is with us now, this minute, available to console and assist us if we let Him into our hearts at this minute in time. For moments when we can be afraid, downcast, worried, it is a great reminder that we need to stand in the place of Mary and listen to the angel as he says those words to us and know that they apply to us as much today as they did to Mary, that the God who described himself as I AM who I AM is very much in our "now" with us.

"How can this be since I am a virgin" - Mary was no docile doe, accepting what was happening without question. She discerned what God was calling her to be, to become. Unlike Eve who accepted the fruit without question, Mary is actively engaging her reason with her faith to determine what God is asking her to do. Again it is reminder to us that our faith is not all to be taken without question, we need to engage with what God is calling us to. It is a reminder also that we need to be open to the message and have the courage to actively discern, examine, seek out what the Lord is calling us to do.

"Listen" - again and again God called through the prophets for the people of Israel to turn back to him, to listen to him, to hear his voice speaking in the depths of their hearts. He calls us again and again to listen to the voice of the Master, to shut up in the busy-ness of our lives and listen, really listen to what God is trying to get through to us. As St Benedict reminds us in the prologue to his rule "Listen carefully, my son, to the master's instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart." More often than not we don't listen until it is too late the promptings of the Lord in our hearts. But to be actively listening to God requires that we create space in our lives. Are we creating that sacred space? 

The Annunciation - James Jacques Tissot

"Mary, be not afraid" - the reassurance of the angel given to Mary as she tried to discern her response. She could have said no; unlikely though that might seem to us! She was facing a hard decision. Joseph could turn around and disown us, her parents would have been shamed and have been entitled to kick her out. How was she to respond? Are there moments when we need to receive that reassurance as we make decisions or take stands that are unpopular or go against the crowd? Do we invoke the gift of courage from the Holy Spirit in our lives? Have you reflected on those gifts and asked God to pour them our into your daily struggles to help you through the day?

"Let what you said be done unto me" - the most important few words in the history of humanity where Mary agreed to the Lords request. God has given us the gift of free will and would not have forced the issue on Mary. Mary's fiat still resounds down through history like the sound of the trumpets at the last judgement, her yes still resounds back from the stars around us and will continue to reverberate throughout history until the end of time as she agrees to undertake a task that will ultimately end up with her standing at the foot of the Cross on Calvary watching her Son being killed. Are we willing to make  that same commitment to God in our every day lives? What promises have we made? Are we keeping our marriage vows "for better or worse"? Are we saying yes to God despite what we see as being the cost because of what the neighbours will say? Do we have a socialised conscience or are we really listening for God's call and be willing to stand up and say yes?

Other reflections and thoughts on this weeks gospel:

Blue Eyed Ennis
Godzdogz - The Awesome gift of holiness
Ponderings on a Faith
Word on Fire
Sunday Reflections
The Centre for Liturgy Sunday Reflections

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