On this last Sunday of Advent, as the solemn celebration of Christ’s birth approaches, the Church reminds us of that holy day nine months earlier when Jesus was conceived in his Mother’s womb. There are two great mysteries connected with that day. The first is the mystery of God becoming man – the Incarnation. God has loved us so much that he became one of us, so that he could save us from sin and the meaninglessness that sin brings, and show us the way to a meaningful life, now and forever. The second mystery is that God didn’t – and doesn’t – work out that plan of salvation for us all by himself. Instead, he asks for our cooperation.
In today’s Gospel, God invites Mary to become the mother of the Savior. It was possible for Mary to reject this invitation. As in the parable of the many townspeople who decline the king’s invitation to attend his son’s wedding feast. Mary could have said, "Thanks for the invitation, Lord, but what you’re asking is actually very inconvenient for me. I really wish I could do what you want, but I’m just not there yet." That’s how Adam and Eve had responded to God’s invitation to take care of the Garden of Eden.
But Mary didn’t insult God with an answer like that. She knew God, and knew that his plans are always wise and wonderful. So she put her life at his service: "I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done unto me according to your word." Mary’s "yes" reversed Eve’s "no", and made room for Christ’s undoing of Adam’s fall.
When God disrupts our plans, we should follow Mary’s example, making our contribution to God’s work of salvation, however small it may be. Salvation is God’s business, but it’s a partnership; we have a role to play as well.
"Therefore, though it is God who takes the initiative of coming to dwell in the midst of men, and he is always the main architect of this plan, it is also true that he does not will to carry it out without our active cooperation. Therefore, to prepare for Christmas means to commit oneself to build ‘God’s dwelling with men.’ No one is excluded; every one can and must contribute so that this house of communion will be more spacious and beautiful." (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, 12 December 2006, Vatican City. www.zenit.org)
All of us have probably had an experience of this partnership: Something we did or said made a powerful impact on someone or helped someone, and we didn’t even realize it at the time. It’s as if we go through our days cutting furrows in the world and planting seeds, and the Lord walks invisibly behind, blessing the soil and making the seed grow.
It is not always easy for us to keep a balance between doing our part and letting God do his part in his plan of salvation. Some of us tend to be lazy and self-absorbed, and we just like to enjoy life. For these, the great temptation is presumption, presuming that God will just make everything work out fine, and therefore not making an effort to help build up the Church or spread the faith.
Others of us tend be control freaks. These are always doing a thousand things at a time, and when their plans don’t work out, or God’s providence throws a wrench into the schedule, they are tempted to become discouraged.
How can the first group avoid laziness and presumption? How can the second group avoid getting stressed, depressed, or obsessed? The answer is to be found in one word: prayer. A healthy prayer life – which is an ongoing project – gives God an open channel of communication to our soul.
And so he can always send us whatever we need most, whether it’s courage or comfort. When we prayerfully read the Bible, its inspired words speak to our hearts the way the prophet Nathan spoke to David and the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary.
When we adore the Blessed Sacrament, God’s grace fills us with supernatural strength and understanding. When we walk with Mary through the mysteries of the Rosary, she teaches us how to say yes to God, without forgetting that he is the senior partner.
God’ wonderful plan of salvation is a partnership.