7th Simbang Gabi: Being Open to God’s Dream

belen
Photo by Fr. Ariel Lubi, CSsR

We are now on our 7th Simbang Gabi or, as I call it, Christmas academy.

Today’s Simbang Gabi coincides with the 4th Sunday of Advent. The gospel for today is the same gospel we read last 3rd Simbang Gabi.

We usually associate dream as a vision, ideal and goal. Or we say that something is a dream because it is impossible to achieve in reality, as in the expression, its just a dream, or as the title of the song goes, “Impossible Dream.”  Dream is therefore a vision which we want to reach but we often times deem as impossible.

We can apply these notions of dream to the original Christmas story. The original story of Christmas is the story of God’s dream.  God’s dream is God’s vision for all humanity and creation. God’s dream is for the whole of humanity and creation to share in the life of God. The only way to achieve this is for God to come down from heaven and break into human history and life, in ways unimaginable and impossible for human beings. God will come down not as God but as a human being. This is impossible and unheard of since the only way to become human, or for human conception to happen, is through the sexual union of a man and a woman. Thus, God’s dream is impossible in human terms.

But God’s way is different. God becoming human will not be a product of human evolution, nor it will be an achievement of humanity, but the intervention of the transcendent God in human history from outside.

God’s dream was planned even from the beginning of time. In the first reading, Isaiah prophesied, “A virgin will bear a son and name him Emmanuel.” The birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, was the plan of God even from the beginning of time. This tells us that God is always with us, from the beginning, now and in the age to come.

In the gospel of today’s 4th Sunday of Advent, Joseph had a dream where the angel of God revealed to Joseph how God’s dream will come about. In his dream, an angel told Joseph that Mary whom he is betrothed, is pregnant. But his pregnancy was from no human being, therefore she is still a virgin. Mary is pregnant through the Holy Spirit of God. Mary had accepted readily even though she didnt fully understand. The angel of the Lord further told him in the dream that he should not be afraid of the pregnancy, even though he was not yet married to this woman.

In Joseph’s dream, the state of affairs is not what it appears to be. Mary is not unfaithful, but faithful. Mary is with child, but a virgin. The infant is not only an earthly child, but also a heavenly One. Yet the infant is not heaven-bound, but an earth-bound Emmanuel. Joseph is not the father, but in a father’s role names the Child Jesus.

Despite all these dilemma, Joseph became open to the mystery of God’s dream beyond both his human and religious understanding. The dream changed Joseph’s life and ours. Joseph was faithful to all that he cling to humanly and religiously, even as he was open to the mystery of God that takes him beyond all the categories of his religious practice and imagination.

Christmas is the story of the fulfilment of God’s dream for all humanity. Christmas can be our story too if we allow God’s dream to happen in our lives. We can live God’s dream if we, like Mary and Joseph, cooperate with the Spirit of God at work. Something altogether new will happen, mystery abounds, “God is with us.” Like Joseph and Mary, the dream becomes a reality when we are willing to relinquish control and open ourselves to the unexpected.

 

5th Simbang Gabi: Mary’s Yes

007-Annunciation-icon

We are now on our 5th Simbang Gabi or, as I call it, Christmas academy. I hope our reflections in this Christmas academy is helping you deepen your understanding of the meaning of the incarnation of Jesus–the original event of Christmas.

It’s just 5 days before Christmas and today we come to a turning point of the Christmas story.  Today we hear the most famous and most important annunciation story which will change the course of human history.

We have heard this story many times before but it is always good to reflect on it over and over again because of its sheer significance not just to the Christmas story but also to the whole of human history.

In today’s gospel we hear the angel Gabriel came to Mary and greeted her

“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

Mary must have been truly alarmed at the words of her unexpected visitor. Contrary to how some may portray her, Mary did not immediately grasp the angel Gabriel’s words. Mary was greatly troubled. We cannot fully understand the annunciation story unless we examine closely the confusion that Mary experienced.

“But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”

Mary was especially troubled when the angel told her

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.

Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”

Mary was troubled because of the impossibility of it all. Although she is already betrothed to Joseph, she is not yet married to him. In other words, she is a virgin, how can she become a mother?

The confusion of Mary boils down to the limitations of the human condition. To understand how she can become pregnant only means that she needs to go beyond the human condition and faculty. She only understood how she can become pregnant when she realized that her pregnancy is of no man but of God. As the angel said, “For nothing is impossible for God.” In other words, this is not a human enterprise but the work of God. The birth of God-becoming-human is God’s undertaking.  God is inviting Mary to participate in the work of God by becoming the bearer of the Son of God.

And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.

Mary surrendered all her doubts and confusions and willfully entered the mystery of God’s mission.  Consequently, by entering into the mystery of God’s mission, it unleash the fullness of her humanity.  She learned to let go of her human pride and self-sufficiency. This also indicates that Mary’s response was far from being passive and submissive.  On the contrary Mary’s yes was a single courageous and proactive act of living.

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

Mary’s fiat (yes) is a turning point in the history of the world. It is the very moment of Incarnation, when God-the-Word from heaven became flesh and began to live among us as one of us. The world would never be the same again. Jesus will be the unique bridge between God and God’s creation. In a way, this moment of conception is just as important as the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. This very moment is the actual beginning of salvation. As Reformed theologian Willie Jennings says, “Salvation begins with Mary’s yes.”[1]

The turning point involved the incarnation as God’s coming down from heaven to become human like us and Mary’s yes which represents humanity’s aspiration of going up to God. Christmas, therefore, is not just the celebration of the incarnation of Jesus but Mary’s humble fiat. Christmas is not just the celebration of Jesus coming down to us but Mary’s coming up to God as well. The joy of Christmas is not just God becoming human but also Mary’s acceptance of Jesus being born in her womb. Mary’s fiat is, therefore, the epitome of how to celebrate Christmas most meaningfully. Christmas is an invitation for all of us to follow the example of Mary’s fiat to become the bearer of God.

Mary has become the prototype of the profound impact of the incarnation of Jesus upon a human being as well as the model of acceptance of Jesus’ incarnation in one’s own life. Mary’s yes is the prototype of humanity’s yes, or more precisely, Mary’s yes represents humanity’s yes par excellence. Cardinal Hans Ur Von Balthasar said, “The Marian fiat has become the archetype, principle and exemplar of the faith response of the entire Church.”[2] Mary became the first of the redeemed and, hence, the prototype of the church.  As Cardinal Schoenborn said, “Mary is the seal of perfect creatureliness; in her is illustrated in advance what God intended for creation.”[3] And as Karl Rahner said, Mary is the most genuine person, “the holiest, most authentic, and happiest human being, to say something of her who is blessed among women.”[4]  As such, she represents most profoundly who we truly are and what we will truly become, Rahner further explains,

She is the noblest of human beings in the community of the redeemed, representative of all who are perfect, and the type or figure that manifests completely the meaning of the Church, and grace, and redemption, and God’s salvation.”[5]

To celebrate Christmas, therefore, is to become Marian, to enter into that communion with Mary’s ‘Yes,’ which, ever anew, is giving room for God’s birth. Like Mary, we are  only capable of giving room for God’s birth through God’s grace itself. As Presbyterian theologian Cynthia Rigby said, “We too are ‘virgins’ who are incapable of bearing God,” until God deigns to be born in our ordinariness as in Mary’s.

Like Mary, may we truly say yes to Jesus becoming flesh and dwelling within and among us. Like Mary, may we all become God-bearers. This is the greatest challenge of Christmas and the perfect Christmas spirit.

The Christmas story continues … Abangan ang susunod na kabanata, bukas! (watch out for the next chapter tomorrow). Tomorrow, we will see how Mary in practice became a bearer of God.

 


 

[1] Willie Jennings in Jason Byassee, “Protestants and Marian Devotion—What about Mary?” Religion Online, 1. Accessed at https://www.religion-online.org/article/protestants-and-marian-devotion-what-about-mary/, 6.

[2] Hans Ur Von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology II Spouse of the Word, essay: “Who is the Church?”, trans. A.V. Littledale (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 161.

[3] Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn, O.P., Text translated from German by Joseph Smith, S.J. The original in German appeared in the Melanges offered to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the occasion of his 60th anniversary [(“Weisheit Gottes-Weisheit der Welt”), EOS, Verlag, St. Ottilien, 1987]. Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines.

[4] Karl Rahner, Mary – Mother of the Lord (Herder and Herder, 1963), 24.

[5] Rahner, Mary – Mother of the Lord, 37.