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Advent 4

Readings: 2 Sam. 7:1–11, 16, Rom. 16:25–27 & Lk. 1:26-38

These past weeks of Advent have been a period of preparation for us. A time for us to reflect on our faith, and our own personal relationship with God, as we check our spiritual preparedness to both celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Jesus, and to await his ‘second coming’. 

Each week of Advent has reminded us of the people who prepared for the way the coming of Jesus, most notably the prophet Isaiah, who foretold the birth of the Messiah, and John the Baptist, who proclaimed Jesus as Saviour, and testified to him in the face of questioning by the Jewish religious leaders. And today, on this last Sunday in Advent, before the celebration of the birth of Christ on Christmas Day, we are especially interested in Mary, the mother of Jesus.

This morning’s gospel passage, from the Gospel of Luke, tells us a little bit about Mary’s own preparation for the birth of Jesus. The opening verse of the passage tells us that, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth”. The “sixth month” is a reference to the sixth month of the pregnancy of Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah, and cousin of Mary, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. The next verse tells us that Mary was a virgin, and that she was engaged to Joseph, who we hear was a descendant of King David. 

Luke tells us that Gabriel greeted Mary by saying to her, “Rejoice, she who has been favoured”, which is a clear statement that Mary was to be a recipient of God’s grace. Gabriel delivered his message that Mary was to become pregnant with Jesus, who would be the Son of God. In answer to her question, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”, Mary learned that her pregnancy was to be a divine one. She was to conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

To perhaps overcome any doubt that might have been in Mary’s mind, about how this could happen, Gabriel then told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth, who was elderly and thought to be incapable of having children, was herself six months pregnant. Gabriel said to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

Mary’s response, to what must have been an overwhelming and incomprehensible revelation from the angel Gabriel, was an incredibly positive one. In a manner reminiscent of Abraham, Mary willingly accepted what God was asking her to do, basically saying to Gabriel, that she was God’s servant, and as God’s servant, it was not her place to question God’s will, but to do it.

Compare this with the situation involving King David in our reading from the Second Book of Samuel. After many years of fighting wars, David had finally secured peace for Israel, and was living very comfortably in his impressive palace. But he felt guilty that the ark of the covenant, which was the symbolic throne of God, and which had been carried with them by the Israelites whenever they went into battle, was still being kept in a tent. So David told the prophet Nathan that he intended to build a more appropriate dwelling in which for the ark to reside. 

Following this, Nathan received a vision from God, which was more or less along the lines of “who does David think he is?”, that God needed David to build something for him! After all, God was the one who took David from the fields where he was tending sheep, and made him king over all the people of Israel. God had defeated all of David’s enemies, and it was God who would make David’s name great in history.

David’s desire to build something more prestigious in which to house the ark of the covenant was well intentioned, but the problem was that David thought he could do something for God that God wasn’t able do for Himself. God didn’t need David to build Him a place in which to reside, after all it was by the grace of God that David became who he was. All that David was required to do was to humbly receive God’s grace and trust in Him, which is precisely what Mary did. She recognised that by God’s grace, and not through anything she had done, that she had been chosen to fulfil the task of bringing God’s Son into the world. The same is true for each of us. By God’s grace alone, He has reconciled us to Him. We are brought into relationship with God; all that we need to do is to accept Jesus into our lives. 

And in order to receive Jesus into our lives we need to clear a space for Him. We need to let go of anything that might become a barrier between us and our relationship with God. That is what is meant by the phrase, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’. The Season of Advent has been a time for us to prepare the way of the Lord. A time to remove the barriers, so that we might receive Jesus into our hearts, and into our lives.

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