Podcast Reflections

Sermon for Advent 4 (Year C)

Listen to a sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 19 December 2021 (Year C)

For many centuries it has been the custom of the Church to focus on Mary on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

There has been so much confusion about the role the Virgin Mary occupies in the Church’s teaching and worship. Unfortunately, today’s Gospel reading starts just after – what I consider to be – the crucial moment in Luke’s narrative of the Annunciation story.

In the preceding verses we read of the angel Gabriel’s visit to a young woman in Nazareth.

And then – in the verse immediately before the opening of today’s Gospel we read Mary’s words:
Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.

With those words Mary throws down a challenge to us all.

I do not believe that Mary is the iconic figure she has become in some branches of the Christian church; rather – that simple, frightened young girl (she was probably only 13 or 14 years old) is the perfect model of discipleship.

Over recent decades the Church has been trying to educate on the subjects of mission and discipleship.

That call has often fallen at the first hurdle because local congregations have labelled the challenge of responding to God’s call to participate openly and willingly in the sharing of his love, in a spirit of Christian service, as being simply too demanding to contemplate.

Too often, the Church forgets the example we are given by Mary, because those who are called to be disciples (i.e. all who would claim to profess the faith of Christ) are too quick to express doubt, and to use the word ‘impossible’.

What a sorry state of affairs!

What, on earth, could have turned the acceptance of Mary into such doom-laden pessimism?

It is a real tragedy that that pessimism does nothing other than lead us into building a wall of doubt and self-justification around ourselves.

How much further can we get from Mary’s open acceptance of the ultimate call to discipleship?

Of course, it is easy at this point to simply say that Mary was ‘special’ and that we are not.

It is so easy to set Mary up on a pedestal that makes her some sort of super-human.

But … she was not super-human; she was a humble peasant girl, living in an obscure corner of the known world.

And in her humility she did not try to argue with, or to contradict, God – instead she said:
Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.

So – what can we do to change our reluctance into Mary’s willingness?

The answer to this also lies in the Gospel narrative.

When Mary wondered at the enormous thing that was being asked of her, the angel Gabriel said this:
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.

That is what we need to grasp on to in our doubt and our insecurity!

Through the power of the Most High everything is possible – whether it defies what we consider to be the rules of nature, or not.

Mary surrendered her heart, her soul, her mind – all that she was – to God.

That is why we focus on Mary on the last Sunday before Christmas.

We are not, figuratively, visiting the maternity ward with a comforting bunch of grapes and a bedraggled bunch of flowers.

We are reflecting on, and praying for the strength and the courage to emulate, the willingness of Mary to take God’s call to mission and discipleship on to another level.

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, so few days before our celebration of Christ’s Nativity – let us pray that we might set aside our natural pessimism, doubt and suspicion, and join with Mary in joyful expectation of the coming of Christ into our midst.