Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In this final week before Christmas, we hear a series of “annunciations.” 1) The annunciation — by an unnamed angel — of the conception and birth of Samson. 2) The annunciation — by the angel Gabriel — of the conception and birth of John the Baptist. 3) The annunciation — by the prophet Isaiah — of the conception of Emmanuel by a virgin. 4) And, finally, the Annunciation — by the angel Gabriel — of the conception and birth of Jesus.
Three lessons contained in those annunciations can help us prepare for Christmas.
To start, each annunciation certainly brings a sense of anticipation and joy. But if we reflect carefully on each of the figures to be born — Samson, John the Baptist and Jesus — we realize that none of them lived an easy life.
So if your preparation for Christmas is filled not only with anticipation and joy but also with sorrow — which it is for many of us, and for a variety of reasons — that combination isn’t incongruous. You don’t have to fight down any of those feelings. If you experience all three this week, then your life is following a biblical pattern.
Second is the famous — and some people think unfair — distinction between Zechariah’s “how” and Mary’s “how.” When Zechariah receives the annunciation about John the Baptist’s conception and birth, he asks, “How can this be?” As a result, he is (apparently) punished for his doubt. When Mary receives the Annunciation about Jesus’ conception and birth, she asks, “How can this be?” As a result, Gabriel explains the matter to her and reassures her. Sometimes people wonder: “How is that fair?”
Remember that an angel is a pure spirit, and therefore able to sense what is invisible. Gabriel would have known the attitude underneath Zechariah’s words. This question is rooted in skepticism, and the response needs to address and break through that skepticism! Gabriel also would have known the attitude behind Mary’s words. Her question is rooted in modesty and humility, and the response needs to reassure those qualities!
This is worth remembering as we give gifts and prepare for Christmas Mass. What’s the attitude behind our words and actions? The angels — and Jesus — are able to see what’s in our heart. What response would the angel give to us? Is there anything in our attitude that could use some purification? If so, the final week before Christmas is a great time to work on that purification.
Third and last, we can measure our lives by biblical patterns, to know how far we’ve come in the life of discipleship, and how far we still have to go. Take, for example, Mary’s response to the Annunciation. In the span of about 30 seconds, Gabriel has upended her entire life, asking her to give her body and soul to God’s plan. By the time 60-75 seconds have passed (read the story out loud and time it!), Mary has said yes. Most of us take days and weeks and months to make a discernment like that. It took Mary less than a minute and a half. That can measure us — we’re not there yet! It can also challenge us: That’s what we have to work on.
One of the Psalm refrains for the week is, “Let the Lord enter; He is the king of glory.” Originally this might have been an appeal to let Him enter Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple. But, in this week before Christmas, let’s also hear it as an appeal to let Jesus enter into us, our schedules and all the joys and sorrows of our hearts.
Let the Lord enter; He is the king of glory.