That Pregnant Pause

We are all familiar with the name Emmanuel which literally means “God is with us”: “Immanu`el” (עִמָּנוּאֵל). Yet, no one, in all likelihood, is familiar with a slightly different phrase: “Hashem hu betocheinu” (תוכינו.בתוכינו) which is Hebrew for “God is in us.” And yet, God is both with us and in us, isn’t he?

Mary, Mother of God

We heard in the second reading that it is our responsibility to live lives that reflect the glory we have received through Jesus Christ; that our lives should be a doxology—a prayerful response to the experience of God in our lives—that we should live our lives glorifying God in us, “Hashem hu betocheinu”.

How much do you and I listen to the voice of God within our hearts? Do our words and actions honestly reflect our deep love and affection for the “Immanu`el” and  “Hashem hu betocheinu”?

In the first reading, David was concerned that God only had a tent in which to dwell, while he lived in luxury, in a palace built of cedar and stone. David thought to make it his responsibility to take care of God, to provide him with a more fitting dwelling place. And God laughed at him.

Why should you build a house for me? It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.

It was foolish of David to feel it was his responsibility to care for God. God wants our love, but he does not need our protection. Without our help, God is still Lord of heaven and earth.

So, where is the proper place for God to dwell? The pre-infancy narrative in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke provides us with an important clue.

We have heard this many times before:

The angel Gabriel was sent from God, to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.

Mary is told by the angel Gabriel, the messenger of God, that the Lord is with her. Much more intimate than God’s presence to David, the Lord is literally with her. She is the dwelling place. She is the new ark, beyond all our reasonable expectations. She is tent and temple. God is literally, physically in her, conceived as human, her very flesh, great with dignity, by the power of the Most High. And she is the temple. She is the greater house, the promise to David.1

The twelfth century monk, theologian, and philosopher, Blessed Isaac of Stella once wrote that:

In a way, every Christian is also believed to be a bride of God’s Word, a mother of Christ, His daughter and sister, at once virginal and fruitful. These words are used in a universal sense of the church, in a special sense of Mary, in a particular sense of the individual Christian. Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb. He dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the church’s faith.

Of Mary, there can be no argument: she was the first person who could say of Jesus, “This is my body, this is my blood.” She was the first altar of the Incarnate Word; her body a fitting temple, a pure and unblemished tabernacle for the Lord.

As the father of two daughters and the grandfather of three granddaughters, from personal experience I will readily admit to a certain bias. Little girls are wonderful; pretty, flirtatious, innocent, and so hard to refuse anything. As the song goes,

Thank heaven for little girls.
Thank heaven for them all.
No matter where, no matter who;
For without them, what would little boys do?
2

God borrows from many creatures to make a little girl—He uses the song of a bird, the squeal of a pig, the antics of a monkey, the spryness of a grasshopper, the curiosity of a cat, the slyness of a fox, and the softness of a kitten.

How can anyone fail to be enchanted by their smile!

Mary was a young girl when the angel appeared to her, just as my daughters were once and my granddaughters are now. One moment she was a young girl, all sugar and spice and everything nice, sitting on her bed dreaming little girl dreams and then in the next she is asked to be the mother of the Son of God. Her reaction when Gabriel told her she was to be the mother of God confounds and confuses us.

As a young unwed Jewish girl, she should have been terrified, afraid of what this would mean for her, her family, her future husband—it would literally turn her life on its head; it most certainly would be terribly embarrassing and shameful; friends and others who knew her would point fingers and talk about her behind her back. But, instead of reacting with fear she calmly responded, “May it be done to me according to your word.” This young girl, suddenly thrust into womanhood, is asked if she would be willing to carry God in her body and in an incredible act of faith, says, “Yes.

Throughout her life Mary responded with a peaceful acceptance to God’s will. Luke writes that at the birth of Jesus, “Mary kept all of these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Throughout her life she was completely at peace because she trusted in God.

Mary’s life was completely changed by the conception and birth of her son. How overwhelming this must have been for her; the future must have seemed incredibly distressing. But even in the uneasiness and confusion of that time, she was completely at peace; filled with faith and trust in God.

We should ask ourselves how Mary could have possibly been so calm in such a chaotic and desperate time. I’m sure part of it was her personality, but certainly the presence of God within her, so deep that she produced God’s only son, had to have provided her with certain calmness. Life is never free from danger and difficulties, but as Mary watched her newborn son, she must have sensed God’s love and presence and that must have brought her great peace and joy.

We should try to always emulate Mary, who when she heard the news from the shepherds, turned inward and kept her thoughts between herself and God. We can only imagine how she must have felt, what she must have thought. To be chosen by God to bear His son, the Savior of the world; to hear her son called the Messiah, the anointed one — “Immanu`el”, “God is with us” — all this must have caused her great anxiety and concern.

Is there anyone who hasn’t struggled with doubt, and perhaps fear, when trying to discern what God has in store for us? Is it so difficult to believe he has something special planned for each of us, that we each have an important part to play in his plan?

The Holy Spirit filled Mary with peace and gave her the courage to become the Theotokos, the Mother of God. In a similar way, each of us has received the gifts of the Holy Spirit; we have been blessed with His presence and love; we have been filled with the peace and the courage to faithfully accept her son’s saving graces.

Just as Mary reordered her life so that God could grow in her, we are called to make room for God in our lives. Just as a pregnant mother waits for labor while at the same time fully experiencing the reality of the new life within her waiting to be born, so too should we be experiencing the reality of God’s presence within us, waiting to be born.

We all claim to have faith, but are we willing to act on that faith; for most of us that is the problem. When asked, Mary said “Yes,” trusting in the Lord. By her “Yes” she taught us that “God is with us,” “Immanu`el” and that “God is in us,” “Hashem hu betocheinu” waiting for us to say “Yes!

Christ be with you.
Christ be in you.
May God bless you,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Amen.

 

Homily #154
Fourth Sunday of Advent (B)
2 Samuel 7:15, 8B-12, 14A, 16
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

 


1 John Kavanaugh, SJ, This is My Body, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.
2 Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”, the opening and closing song for the 1958 film, Gigi, 1957.

About the Author

Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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