I think it was the late ‘90s when the movie “Liar, Liar” came out. It starred Jim Carrey, who plays a lawyer and a father of one. He is constantly making commitments to his son, and then breaking those commitments. So, when his son’s teacher asked him what his father does for a living, the son responds, “He’s a liar.” The teacher assumes he mispronounced “lawyer,” but there is no distinction in the little boy’s mind. Jim Carrey’s character, at least at the start of the movie, is a father who constantly breaks his promises.
Contrast that image of a father with the image of God we hear about today. The readings today remind us that God is a Father who keeps his promises.
In the first reading, we hear a scene from the life of King David. In this moment, King David and the Israelites have finally settled down after recovering the lost ark of the covenant, reconquering Jerusalem, and defeating the enemies of Israel. Finally, the ark is brought back to Jerusalem, where it belongs. But David feels that something isn’t right. All this time, the holiest thing on earth, the Ark of the Covenant, has been travelling around in a tent. And remember, the Ark of the Covenant signifies the very presence of God on earth! But now, in its proper city, it has no fitting place to rest. And so, David resolves to build a house for God’s Ark.
Then God does something unexpected; he flips the promise around—instead of David building a house for God, it is God who promises to build a house for David. And this house will not be of stone or wood—it will be a royal family that will last forever, and David’s descendants will sit on an everlasting throne.
David’s faith and devotion to God open up an avenue for God to accomplish his will. God does not force it, but he seizes the moment to make David a promise. By God’s own initiative, the house of David will produce an heir to rule the kingdom, and he will be a son of God.
This is a brilliant moment of dramatic irony, because King David doesn’t know exactly what God means when he says “I will be a Father to him, and he will be a son to me,” but WE DO! We know that God will fulfill his promise in the person of Jesus Christ, the King who reigns forever.
We know that David’s house endures, because we hear the genealogy of Jesus at the beginning of the gospels of Matthew and Luke. If you’re here at the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve, we’ll hear the deacon proclaim that whole genealogy. All those names—one of the hardest readings in all of Scripture!
But the genealogy tells us the connection between David and Jesus. It is thru David’s descendant Joseph, who is betrothed to Mary. Joseph connects Jesus to David’s line of descendants by taking Mary into his home and naming the child Jesus. In this way, Jesus is both son of God and son of David. It is in Mary that God fulfills the promise he made to David all those years ago. God finally builds that house, and that house is Mary. She is to be the new ark, and the new dwelling place of God on earth. So it is announced to her by the angel Gabriel.
Imagine what it must have been like for Mary on that day. Mary grew up in a small town that few people had heard of. According to Tradition, Mary was born to a couple, named Joachim and Anne, who had experienced difficulty in having children. Her mother, Anne, had promised God that she would dedicate her first-born to God’s service if he would answer her petition for a child. Sure enough, Mary was immaculately conceived, born, and raised in this small town and destined to a life of virginity and service in the Temple.
Mary was most likely a teenager when the angel Gabriel appeared to her, calling her “full of grace.” I dare say that most of us would be terrified at the sight of an other-worldly creature appearing all of a sudden, and seeming to know all about us. Indeed, the Gospel says that she was greatly troubled. That’s an understatement! For this, the angel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary.”
But if that wasn’t shocking enough, the message of the angel was enough to make anyone speechless. Mary was to conceive and bear the very Son of God. We can imagine her shock. Her entire life would never be the same. Is this really happening? After all, to be chosen for a special mission from God, in seemingly impossible circumstances, would seem unlikely at best. But to a humble virgin girl from a small, unknown town at the edge of a vast Empire, the question arises: Why would God choose to accomplish his work thru such a person as me?
Yet, her hesitation and fear last only a moment. The whole world holds its breath and waits for her answer. For God, the consummate gentleman, will not take back the gift of free will that he has given to every human being. He will not force her to cooperate. She must give her consent, and so she does. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done unto me according to your word.” The angel departs, and returns to the heavenly courts, where he announces to God and all the angels, “she said yes.” Now the dawn of grace has appeared on earth, and its light is about to break forth on Christmas day.
The story is a familiar one, as we recall it every year at this time. Not only that, but we constantly commemorate the events of the Annunciation in that most well-known prayer of the Church, the Hail Mary.
The Hail Mary is of course not just a stand-alone prayer, but it is integral to two other popular prayers, the Angelus and the Rosary. The Angelus is traditionally prayed at morning, noon and evening. It consists of three short verses which recall the Annunciation, each followed by a Hail Mary. Then you have the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, of which the first mystery is the Annunciation. As we pray the Rosary, we are given an extended moment to ponder the moment when Gabriel appeared in that small town to a humble virgin girl. We are swept away in spirit to Nazareth, and we echo the words that Gabriel spoke: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”
And this humble girl is given the opportunity to change the world. She is not given kingdoms or armies. She is given faith and free will. She is given a choice and a chance to say yes. The obedience Mary displays is only possible thru faith. Mary, prepared by her parents from a young age to serve the Lord alone, is like a flower grown in rich soil. She has been preparing for this moment her whole life, even though she doesn’t know it. She has heard the prophets and she knows that God keeps his promises. She trusts God, and because of this trust, she can respond with obedience. This is the obedience of faith that St. Paul mentions in our second reading.
Mary’s faith and obedience are expressed in her Magnificat, the prayer she utters when she visits her relative, Elizabeth. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord… for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. He has come to the help of his servant, Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy.” I am reminded of Pope Francis’ motto: Miserando, atque eligendo: having mercy, and yet choosing. God has mercy on his people, and, in his mercy, he chooses his servant to cooperate with him and accomplish his will on earth.
Yes, Mary was selected from her very conception to be God’s special servant. And yet, we know that God has had many servants thru the ages, and he continues to have servants even today.
The truth is that we, too, live in a small, little-known town in what many call “fly-over country” in the midst of a vast nation. We, like Mary, live in humble surroundings. And we, like Mary, belong to the People of God, and we are known to God by name. We are constantly guarded by angels and invited to live in friendship with God. Not only that, but we, like Mary, are given a special mission from God. This mission, broadly speaking, is to make Christ known, so to make more disciples. But before we can accomplish this mission, we ourselves must be disciples. We must study the Scriptures as Mary did in her youth, and we must be in constant prayer and relationship with God, so that we may be found ready when he gives us our particular mission. Every Christian should expect to be sent out on mission. Perhaps that mission is to start a family. Perhaps that mission is to become a religious sister or a priest. Perhaps the mission is to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to our employees or coworkers who do not know him. Perhaps the mission is to start a new ministry at the parish to help those in need. Perhaps it’s to hand on the faith to the young, or to visit the imprisoned or the homebound. In carrying out our particular mission, we accomplish the greater mission of the Church, which is to make disciples.
But these missions are not taken up of our own initiative—they are given to us by God himself. And how can we know what God is asking us to do unless we are listening for his voice? We listen to the voice of God thru prayer and meditation.
If you are bored, or stressed, or anxious, or restless, then it could be a sign that God has got something planned for you. He desires to call you to a mission, to participate in his creation. After all, he has given you talents, opportunities, skills, and other blessings for a reason. And out of respect for your free will, he waits for you to say yes.
It is because of Mary’s yes that she is called the model disciple—the paradigm for every follower of Christ. The question we must ask ourselves is: will I follow her example and be God’s disciple today? Will I say yes? The host of angels and all creation await your answer.
 Romans 16:26