Transforming presence of God

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe, 20 December 2019

Isaiah 7:10-14 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> Luke 1:26-38

Manor House, Camp John Hay, December 2017. Photo by author.

One reason Christmas is the most favorite time of the year is its colors. From houses to malls and almost every building, one can find a spectacular display of different colors and lights that brighten everyone.

But everything changes when one enters the church.

Advent is so different. Color is violet near the deep blue shade to signify the importance of conversion and penance that lead into transformation while the colors of the world found in malls are about money and material things.

Our parish sanctuary area, Advent 2019.

God takes initiative

We have seen yesterday in St. Luke’s first Christmas story how God entered through human activities and history for the coming of Jesus Christ by first announcing the birth of his precursor, St. John the Baptizer.

But today, in his second Christmas story which is the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Lukes shows us how God is now acting on his own. Of course, God always takes the initiatives in life being the “prime mover”.

But in announcing the birth of Jesus, God went “out of his way” so to speak to bring us this tremendous grace of Christmas as he would always do in many instances in our lives.

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with yo.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus .”

Luke 1:26-31
Mosaic of the Annunciation to Mary at the Shrine of St. Padre Pio at Rotondo, Italy. Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, 2018.

So different from yesterday’s story of the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptizer to Zechariah, let us see how God took the initiative in the annunciation in the birth of Jesus to Mary.

  1. Zechariah was a priest while Mary was a commoner. It was natural for God to work through his ministers but in choosing Mary an ordinary woman was something else not because of any special quality she had but simply because God is good. The angel clearly told this to Mary, “you have found favor with God”. God does not call the qualified but he qualifies the call!
  2. God used the setting of the Temple of Jerusalem in yesterday’s account because that is where he is supposed to dwell but today, everything happened in a very simple house in Nazareth, the only place of significance and importance in the New Testament never mentioned in the Old Testament. It was a place looked down upon by many like St. Bartholomew asking Philip, “can anyone good come from Nazareth?”
  3. There was a major feast going on, the Yom Kippur, with a lot of people present when Zechariah was informed of the birth of John; Mary was alone in her house when the angel came to announce to her the birth of Jesus on the six months after going to Zechariah.

Intense Presence of God and of Mary

Usually, as we have seen yesterday in the annunciation of the birth of John, God always acted in silence and hiddenness. He blends and flows with world history as well as with our own personal histories.

But, there are times even in our own experiences when God really pulls something extraordinary, a miracle to bless us, to save us.

That was the case in the Annunciation to Mary. God “freely acted on his own” for the good news to happen, regardless of whoever was the king of Judea or emperor of Rome. He set the stage and everything for the fulfillment of his plan of salvation for us.

And the very good thing here is we find a perfect congruence or an equilibrium wherein, God was intensely present and so was Mary.

In the annunciation of John’s birth, God was very much present answering the prayers of his parents but Zechariah was miserably absent, doubting the good news!

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:38

God is always coming to us in many instances and persons who come to our lives. Are we present to him?

Notice how she entered into a dialogue with the angel Gabriel in explaining how things would happen. She was so open and so absorbed too as if the Holy Spirit must have had a perfect landing on her that she became pregnant with Jesus!

It sounds funny but that was how it happened because tomorrow, we would hear St. Luke telling us how Mary hurriedly went off to see her cousin Elizabeth, meaning there was a transforming change that occurred in Mary right away!

And that is how God truly works – if we can be truly open like Mary with God’s intense presence, we can experience overnight conversion and transformation that we have heard experienced by many unbelievers, sinners, addicts of all kinds. All they could say was there was a very brief moment when they felt God so intensely present and boom! everything changed for the best.

Mary believed

Mary was not only open to God but most of all, she has always believed in him. See how St. Luke tells us after the Annunciation, “then the angel departed from her”, never to come again to inform her of special messages from God unlike St. Joseph.

After the Annunciation, Mary was left on her own in the sense that all she had was her firm faith in God through Jesus Christ her Son.

Mary believed in everything that was spoken to her! It was all she had up to the foot of the Cross when Christ died, when she waited with the apostles in Jerusalem for the Pentecost and in all her other apparitions later. She has always believed in Jesus her Son.

Today, we complain a lot of people no longer believing in God, leaving the Church, refusing to pray and celebrate the sacraments.

Perhaps it is about time for us to ask our very selves too, especially us your priests and pastors as well as the parents: do we truly believe what we are doing, what we are practicing as Catholics?

It is always easy to say we believe in God like King Ahaz in the first reading who refused to ask God for signs that Israel would be delivered from the advancing Babylonians.

It was merely a “show” because Ahaz had already entered into alliance with small kingdoms to fight the Babylonian invaders. He had never believed God or his Prophet Isaiah; hence, Israel was conquered and crushed as a nation, thrown into exile in Babylon for a long time.

A Filipino painting of the Annunciation to Mary on a wall facing the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Photo by author May 2017.

God’s power and his intense presence can only work in proportion with the faith we have. This is what Jesus had told the apostles when they asked him to “increase their faith”: “If you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to the mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and panted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Lk.17:5-6).

In another instance, the apostles failed to cast away the demon possessing the son of a certain man. After Jesus had driven away the evil spirit, his apostles came to him in private to ask, “Why could we not cast it out? And Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your little faith'” (Mt.17:19).

Like Mary, let us believe wholly to God by giving our whole selves to him. Let us create a room in ourselves for God so he can be present in us and transform us like Mary. Amen.

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