The Church asks us to stop with Mary for a moment on this feast of the Immaculate Conception, precisely during this time of waiting, Advent, the expectation of the One she has generated for our salvation. Mary always leads us not only to the origins of the mystery of salvation, but also to the heart of our faith, she who was first a disciple and mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. Mary, the new Eve, the one who becomes the mother of humanity and of all believers, of this new people and of the disciples of the Lord “.
“Today’s feast reminds us of the story of a woman, the only one who was conceived without sin, who did not come to this world far from the Lord, because she agreed to listen to his Word right from the beginning. This is why Mary is considered the new Eve, the one who refused to listen to the voice of the evil one, but she listened only to the Words of God. Thus we read in the Gospel passage, which describes the mystery of Mary, who listened before she could even understand, during this time of Advent the Virgin Mary helps us to understand what characterises the Christian life: listening to the Lord and not to oneself, Mary was a young woman from a small and insignificant village in Galilee, on the peripheries of the Roman Empire, a woman without a history and of no importance at all. The angel Gabriel “‘God is strong‘ is the meaning of his name” was sent, Gabriel the strong messenger, he who could announce in the life of this young woman the strength of a Word that would change the history of humanity. Facts are the Words of God: the Word does not descend from heaven without having an effect on the listener or without realising what God has sent to us. The Word of God indeed changes not only us but the entire world.
And yet the word of the angel disturbed Mary greatly and raised questions within her. If the word of God does not disturb us, it will not arouse amazement and questions within us, it means that His Word had not been listened to with the heart. One cannot be indifferent to it, it is impossible to listen to it without the feeling of being deeply touched, nor without perceiving the distance which separates us from Him. It is from this disturbance that the invitation to believe in that Word is born. We are too sure of ourselves. We consider ourselves just and good and we easily allow ourselves to often judge others. “Do not be afraid!”, Said the angel Gabriel. How many times in the pages of the Bible is this invitation resounded. It is the loving invitation of the Lord not to give reason to fear. Today fear seems to dominate our hearts and lives. There are so many fears: fear of the future, of weakness, of illness, of old age, of death, fear of others. And fear makes one live for oneself only, closes in upon oneself and looks at others with distrust and contempt. In fear we all become more uncertain and even become unpleasant, rude, elusive, cold, hard, bullying, sometimes even violent, because others become our competitors and our enemies, someone to beware of and defend ourselves from. Fear can only achieve our distancing ourselves from others and divides us as a people.
Yet the Angel of God does not despise the fear of this weak and humble woman, her uncertainty, her condition of impossibility. On the contrary, the unexpected announcement of the Saviour’s birth is joined by the certainty of the presence of the Holy Spirit and also the concrete proof that the miracle that will take place in Mary has already been accomplished similarly in Elizabeth her relative. Dear Sisters and Brothers, we are surprised by the divine solicitation of Mary and of each one of us: the presence and the words of the angel Gabriel accompany us, because we too can say our ‘Yes’ to the Lord without giving reason to fear, with the confidence that the Lord helps us and everything becomes possible with Him. We are faced with the miracle of God’s presence and the power of his Word. Do not doubt, because “nothing is impossible for God”.
In the time of Advent, as we prepare ourselves as Mary did to welcome the Lord Jesus, it is necessary to reflect on the last word of the angel to the Virgin. In fact, too many things today we simply brush aside as we consider them impossible. Still too often we draw back before the Words of the Gospel, which we ourselves make impossible with our own limited faith or for a modest sense of our Christian life. Mary’s humility is not the same humility of those who, out of fear or selfishness, prefer to avoid the Lord’s Words or question. His humility and weakness became a plea for help, so that it would happen according to the Word of God.
Today’s world needs the Gospel of Advent and Christmas, so that it is still possible for Jesus to find a place within the lives of humanity and the many miracles of His merciful presence, that miracle which makes humanity friends, brothers and sisters, can be accomplished, it teaches piety and makes us live humanly. God is still looking for women and men who like Mary know how to answer the question of the beginning: “Where are you?” It is the question of the beginning of human history, which God addressed to Adam and today addresses to each one of us. “Where are you?” God asks each one of us, as we walk bent over ourselves, worried and distressed by our futility and difficulties, aged by our habit and our pessimism, frightened and fleeting whenever the Lord speaks to us. “Where are you?” When you are sad and unsatisfied, do you seek the approval, consensus and judgement of others, or do you fool yourself into well-being, while many would need your help and friendship? “Where are you?” Asks the Lord with affection and insistence. Why are you hiding from my love and my word? Why are you ashamed of your weakness, the fragility of your body, your uncertain feelings, the need to live listening to the Lord and not to yourself? This question hides the mystery of God’s love which seeks humanity and also the mystery of humanity, who although originating from God, hide themselves from Him, who would prefer to live as if God were not there, because acknowledging the presence of God would always raise a question, would be an invitation to listen, not to live for oneself only and to look beyond the present.
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done for me according to Your Word.” Mary’s answer definitively interrupts this flight and our shame of our beginnings. “Here I am”. My littleness and weakness will not prevent me from being Your servant, from living with You, my Lord, so that the world will find You and listen to Your Word. “Here I am”, let it be done to me according to Your Word. Here we are, Lord, we are still weak and uncertain, we waste so much of the energy that You gave us, but we are here, with all of our fears and in our fragility. We are not ashamed to be like this, but as beggars we turn to You, we stop withdrawing from Your gaze and Your Word which is full of love and concern for us. Speak, Lord, so that Your servants will listen to You. This is Advent, brothers and sisters: a woman, a man who, like the Virgin Mary, does not withdraw from the voice of God but entrust themselves fully and unconditionally to the Lord, in the certainty that they will overcome impossible things and make them possible. Let us pray to the Virgin Mary to help us say our “Yes” to the Lord. Amen