Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2020
Gospel of St. Luke 1: 26-38
When Advent comes, my mind travels to a German prison to a young Jesuit, Alfred Delp, who because of his resistance, was caught in the web of Nazi power, imprisoned, and finally executed. But while in prison he wrote some Advent meditations, and in one of them he invites us to think of the special people of Advent —with Mary as the one he considers “the most comforting of all Advent figures.” (p. 20)
Entering into Luke’s Gospel of the 4th Sunday, we begin to find why Mary could be described as “comforting.” The primary message of this passage of the Gospel of Luke is centered on the conception of Jesus as Messiah and God’s son and what he will accomplish for those who depend on God. (Brown, p.60)
It is important to remember that the annunciation to Mary in Nazareth comes after another special annunciation, the one to Zachary in the Temple in Jerusalem where the angel Gabriel startles him with the message that his wife Elizabeth will bear a son whose name is to be John. And then in the Gospel of Matthew the annunciation is in a dream to Joseph, “who is not to be afraid to take Mary . . . into your (his) home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” Mt 1:20
The heart of Luke’s annunciation to Mary is the identity of Jesus, the child to be conceived that goes back to the prophet Nathan in the promise to David, the king– that his descendants will rule over the house of Israel forever. (2 Samuel: 7) He is to be the Messiah of the house of David embodying in himself all the richness of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is Mary’s questioning response, “How can this be?” that allows Gabriel to explain God’s role: “the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power from the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy—Son of God.” And Mary’s clear response, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”—Mary consents to be the physical mother of Jesus and to accept fully the presence of the Word in her life.
When read in Advent, Luke’s message of the annunciation calls us as Christians to a renewed clarity of vision and commitment. The one to be born at Christmas is not just Prince of Peace, a title often given to him even by non-committed commentators. He is the very presence of God with us and the Messiah of the house of David embodying in himself all the uncompromising tradition of prophetic Judaism putting down the mighty and lifting up the lowly. Now in our place and time, we look around especially during this era of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the Torah-Gospel tradition we stand with our sick, especially the poor and pray, eternal rest to those who have died, comfort to the mourners, healing to the sick, strength to healthcare workers, wisdom to leaders, knowledge to scientists working on a vaccine, and hope to all of us caught in the web of isolation even fear.
And so Alfred Delp caught in his own dangerous web of resistance wrote in the darkness of a Nazi prison:
The fact that the angel’s annunciation found a motherly heart ready to receive the Word, and that it grew beyond its earthly environment to the very heights of heaven, is the holiest of all Advent consolations. Our blessed Lady, (he writes) she is the most comforting of all the Advent figures.
May our blessed Lady in this year of the pandemic comfort and remind us of the healing presence of Immanuel, God with us.
Sources: Brown, Raymond E., A Coming Christ in Advent
Delp, Alfred, The Prison Meditations of Father Delp