In the last Sunday before Christmas, the liturgy turns to Mary. We look forward to Christ’s coming. Through Advent we have prepared for his coming. Now we look for the perfect preparation, in the heart of Mary.
The Offertory Prayer asks the Holy Spirit to “sanctify these gifts laid upon your altar, just as he filled with his power the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” The opening prayer is the Angelus prayer: “pour forth . . your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel . . . .”
The Preface for Masses of Advent says, “the Virgin Mother longed for him with love beyond all telling.” Her heart is the image of Advent longing and preparation. We turn this weekend to Our Lady of the Advent.
The Entrance Antiphon sets the theme. Rorate coeli: “drop down dew from above, you heavens; and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior” (Is 45:8)
There are two images here, corresponding to Christ’s two births. His first birth is heavenly: he is the divine Son of God, born among “the clouds”. His second birth, at Christmas, is from the earth: “let the earth be opened.”
Mary is the earth; our hearts are the earth, where the divine Word is planted. We must be opened up, and so let him be born in us. Yet the mystery of Mary is the mystery of grace. She does not make Christ appear. She receives him from like dew from above.
And so the Old Testament reading, from Micah, emphasizes the two poles. “You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.” It is not by Mary’s might that Christ is born from her. She is little. In fact, he is born in her only because she is little enough to receive him.
He is the strong one: “He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock, by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God. . . . His greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.”
We wait. We look forward. We prepare. But our preparation is not to be the great doers, but to be waiting, looking forward – to let him be our peace. Come, Lord Jesus!
The Gospel is Luke’s Gospel of the pregnant Mary, Our Lady of the Advent: “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste . . . where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” prophesies, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Mary is the earth that brings forth the Savior. She is blessed, because Emmanuel is with her.
“Blessed are you,” says the Spirit-filled Elizabeth, “who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Later in Luke’s Gospel, a woman will mistake Mary’s dignity as being merely physical: “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the breasts which you sucked.” Jesus agrees – the Greek includes “yea” – but goes deeper: “Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”
That is the true blessedness of Mary, the blessedness to which we aspire: to be the earth that receives the dew from above, to hear the word and keep it – to believe that what was spoken to us by the Lord would be fulfilled.
That is the way of Advent: to look forward with trust in the promise, to prepare by waiting for him to be our peace – in his coming at Christmas, his coming at the end of time, his daily comings. Come, Lord Jesus!
But there is a second, external kind of preparation tied to that primary, internal one. Mary went with haste to help Elizabeth, with her words and, we assume, with her hands.
Our Epistle is from Hebrews. It focuses on the Incarnation. Its central message says, “When Christ came into the world, he said, ‘. . . a body you prepared for me . . . I come to do your will, O God.’ . . . By this ‘will’ we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Christ came, not merely to be our ritual, not merely to be our Sunday or holiday observance, but to claim our entire lives. He came not for the moment of Christmas, but for the entirety of a human life. We welcome him, too, by consecrating our lives to him. We join Mary in making our every moment revolve around his coming.
In what ways do you pray, “Come, Lord Jesus”?