Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 24)

“Let it be done to me according to your word,” Mary says in response to the announcement of Gabriel. Mary’s “yes” to the Lord changed the world. Her “yes” or “fiat” (which is the Latin word for “let it be done”) ushered in the dawn of salvation. Through her “yes” God himself took flesh and was born among us as a human being. Humanity has been irrevocably blessed by his taking flesh in her.

This Sunday is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. This year, due to the way the calendar falls, it is the shortest fourth week of Advent possible, just a day. Monday is the Nativity of the Lord. Most people have been preparing for weeks, some for months, for the celebrations associated with Christmas. We are reminded today that God prepared for a long time for that first Christmas.

Earlier in Advent, actually on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we heard the reading of the fall of mankind in the Book of Genesis. At the end of that account, we heard what the early church fathers identified as the protoevangelium or “first gospel.” The verse reads: “I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Genesis 3:15).

God’s words to Satan point forward to the time when evil and sin will be conquered by the off-spring of a woman. This victory will be accomplished in Christ Jesus. In this sense, even from the first moments of the fall, God was planning our redemption.

The first reading for Sunday’s liturgy recalls David’s desire to build a house for the Lord, a suitable dwelling place for God. The Lord rebukes David, reminding him that God is the source of both David’s and Israel’s greatness. He is the One from whom salvation comes.

What’s more is that God promises, sometime in the future, that he will raise an heir for David. He will make his kingdom firm. God concludes the message by saying, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.”

The preparations for the messiah are not limited to these two examples but can be found throughout the “law and the prophets.” In his providence, God planned to send his Son to save and redeem mankind. His preparations come to fulfillment when Mary says “yes.” Now is the time of salvation.

The time for our spiritual preparations for the “coming” of the Lord is nearing its end. God desires to enter into our lives. He is always seeking to enter deeper and deeper into our lives, bringing his love and mercy. Mary’s “yes” allowed the Lord to enter her life in a real and powerful way. In doing so, she became an instrument of his love and mercy. As we prepare, in these final hours before Christmas, we have the opportunity to say “yes” – “let it be done” – as Mary said.

At Mass, there are many ways that the Lord speaks to us and invites us to respond. Perhaps we might consider three ways we can experience his presence and listen for his call.

The first is when we gather in church. Here we are gathered in his name and as his body. He is present among us. Recognizing his presence in and among us will help us make our response, to accept his saving love and to listen to his transforming Word.

The second is when we listen to the Word of God proclaimed in the Sacred Scriptures in the Liturgy of the Word. We have the opportunity to “hear” God speaking to us, calling us to conversion of heart and inviting us to live the life of love.

The third is when we receive Communion. As we receive the Eucharist, we take the presence of Christ into our bodies that “we might become what we receive” (St. Augustine). In the reception of holy Communion we hope to be further conformed to the One whom we receive. Saying “amen” is our saying “yes” or “let it be done.”

The angel Gabriel announced great news to Mary. The dawn of salvation would break through her. The incredible news that the savior would be conceived in her through the power of the Holy Spirit is met with sublime acceptance.

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we are reminded that God wants to be part of our lives. He desires to come to us and dwell in and among us. We pray today that our response might be like Mary’s: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.