When I was about seven years old, I remember one Christmas opening my Christmas gifts. As a kid you expected to get gifts from Santa, and sometimes you got what you asked for and sometimes you did not and that was okay. I was inundated that Christmas morning with various gifts and toys, and I was filled with joy, wonder, and excitement. Later, when I visited my grandparents on both sides of the family, I remember getting less toys and more clothes. Boy, did I let my disappointment be made known! Little did I realize the love and care that was placed in the gifts that were given to me and how even though they were not what I expected, they were exactly what I needed. I would later apologize to my parents and family for the outburst and the lack of gratitude for the gifts that were given and the love that was shown toward me.
Expectations are a driving force within every human life. Sometimes when our expectations are mired in sin and selfishness they can blind and enslave us, distorting us from seeing the subtle action of grace that is working around us and despite us. They become like the hardened winter ground, unable to receive or bear life. When our expectations are rooted in the presence of Divine Grace working in us through prayer, the sacraments, and our own yes to Jesus then our hearts become receptive and a new tabernacle, the new Manger for Jesus to abide in us. The seed of the mysteries of Jesus life then begins to bear the fruit of sanctity within our hearts just as the Blessed Virgin Mary’s womb bore him. This is what the Church urges us to meditate upon in these closing days of Advent as we inch ever closer to the coming of Jesus with His birth in the manger of Bethlehem at Christmas. This is the cry of the great Advent hymn and Antiphon Rorate Caeli, “Drop down dew, you heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just one: let the earth be opened, and bud forth a savior” (Isaiah 45:8). This same cry is also echoed similarly in the O Antiphons prayed at Vespers between December 17th through 23rd as well as the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
There is an ancient feast that was common in Spain during the Middle Ages known as the Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary which occurred on December 18th. The Bishops of Spain implemented this feast at the Council of Toledo in 656 AD. Since the Annunciation occurred in Lent when the focus was on Our Lord’s Passion, they wanted to highlight its focus in closer proximity to the mystery of Jesus’ Birth eight days before Christmas. Dom Prosper Guéranger notes that overtime this Feast would be discontinued, yet still during this time of Advent “the faithful were requested to consider, with devotion, what must have been the sentiments of the Holy Mother of God during the days immediately preceding her giving him birth.” (The Liturgical Year, Vol 1. – December 18th) The connections of Mary’s expectations to the radical “yes” to God shows us how God’s strength, love, and saving plan can be brought about in the unlikeliest ways when we freely surrender ourselves and our expectations to His actions in our life.
At the Annunciation (cf. Lk 1:26-38 – Gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B), Mary gives a radical yes to God’s plan for her life which included her becoming the Mother of God, the Mother of the Messiah whom all Israel eagerly expected and awaited. The one who would fulfill God’s promise of salvation would take from Mary his own human nature uniting it to his divine nature through her yes, her fiat. Mary’s yes was one that knew how to listen, be receptive, and give of oneself to a mystery that was made known to her, that she knew would define her entire life and all human history. Her radical yes shows how when I grow in the interior life, it is not enough to love God merely out of duty alone, or on our own terms through an immature willful desire like a child fixated on giving or receiving a Christmas gift in a certain way from their family. To grow in intimacy with Jesus means to accept an invitation he freely gives me to offer my life to him in a total act of oblation of love that is more than my understanding, expectations, and desires can give me. Mary’s fiat to God before St. Gabriel the Archangel at the Annunciation represented a personal prayer of absolute, unreserved, giving of self before God. This was an interior release of her soul with all her mere human expectations to be from then onward to be at the complete disposal of His saving plan. Fr Donald Haggerty states that “the “yes” of her fiat placed her already in union with God, aligned the future of her life already in oneness with God’s desires.” (Conversion, 159-160) Her words and actions became one at this moment, thus enabling Jesus the Eternal Word, the Son of God, to become incarnate in her womb as her own son.
This response of a radical yes that is emblematic of the second conversion is also seen in Saint Joseph’s response to his dream where he follows the commands of the Angel not to be afraid at Mary’s news of being pregnant with a son and to her as his wife into his own home (cf. Mt 1:18-24 – Gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A & Christmas Eve Vigil Mass) Joseph’s humble reverential hesitation before the dream shows us that when God’s expectations and invitation to a greater love of Him, there is a hidden grace not to fear, despite the intimidating prospects that may lay ahead in the unknown and that which is outside our control. Fr. Donald Haggerty here makes the following observation:
We can never see ahead what God may do with a total surrender of our soul to him. And God sometimes does ask much from a soul that loves him much. It is not surprising, then, that the act may provoke an anxious hesitation before it is fully embraced…Although there may be an initial fear of this act of total surrender, the question should be raised whether anyone who became holy ever regretted a complete surrender to God. Surely the saints in heaven would testify that this offering took them to a depth of closeness to Our Lord that they had not known previously. They were free henceforth to listen to him more subtly and receive from him the endless stream of his requests for love and sacrificial offering. (Conversion, 160-161)
Both Mary and Joseph show us how their yes fosters a state of obedience in their souls toward God that gives them freedom. This is because their hearts are now one with His in love and that their yes to Him is a home, a path, and a shield of love. They now know in their prayer that whatever joy or difficulty they face, God is with them to strengthen, guide, and care for them along the way of salvation. Their receptivity and expectations being animated by divine love give them a human awareness and availability of faith that is real, humble, and free of all resentment and entitlement. The joys and crosses of their lives are seen as moments to love with the very heart of their son, the promised Messiah, with eager and hopeful expectation.
We turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary asking her to give us the gift a heart free from all sin and joyfully receptive and eager to see the to the mystery of salvation be birthed from her. May she also help us obtain the grace to renew our own fiat, our own yes to Jesus in our lives so we may be transformed by His birth into our hearts anew this Christmas season no matter what way or time He may come to us.
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