The fourth candle of the Advent Wreath is a sign to remind us of the part which Mary played in the coming of Jesus Christ.
Mary was the first person to respond to God and to have Christ formed in her, and she did this in a way that provides an example for us all. The Holy Spirit always tries to join people everywhere with Jesus, and so his dealings with Mary can help us enormously as we try to make some kind of sense of this mystery. Perhaps by thinking about the way in which Jesus was formed in Mary, we can come to a better understanding of how God has promised that the same Jesus will be formed in you and me as well.
The world, in which we live, is in the main, a pretty ordinary kind of place, where nothing especially miraculous seems to happen. We might long to be in a position where we could say that we’ve seen a miracle. And perhaps we tell ourselves that if this was so then our faith would be a lot stronger. But a part of the job of being a Christian is to try and see the miraculous in the ordinary.
We need to remember that when we look below the surface of things, we can sometimes see something much deeper going on. If we look with the eye of faith we may see hidden truth in ordinary things.
I imagine that most of us here today will be able to point to things which have happened in our own lives in which we’ve been able to see the Holy Spirit at work. For example, a coincidence happens in which we can see an answer to a prayer that we ’ve made. Many of these outward visible events will be ordinary day to day happenings in which, through the eye of faith we’ve been able to see God at work. Perhaps we don’t always recognise this at the time that it happens, but often when we look back at a situation we can see how God was present in it even if at the time we were blind to his presence.
We believe that God has made us in his image, and we need to emphasise that this doesn‘t mean we look like God.
What it does mean is that we can respond to God, enter into a relationship with him and return the love which he has for us.
And Mary is perhaps, the best example we have, of what can happen when this God of love is at work, in human beings. When God gets to work, then the Holy Spirit draws us into his life and his plans. So Jesus, God in human terms, was conceived in Mary, by an enormous act of God’s love.
In Luke’s gospel we’re told that an angel appeared to Mary, in order to tell her that she was to have a baby, who would be the very son of God. And Mary said “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word “
So we can see quite clearly in Mary, the full grace of God at work. She didn’t earn the gift of Christ; her work, if you like, was simply to hold out her hands and accept what God wanted her to receive; that is, the gift of himself. And God even gave her the grace to do that. She said “yes” for herself, but not by herself. Mary was, indeed hailed by the Angel as being full of grace.
Mary’s life was also to be full of trouble, and yet she was amazingly happy. Her words are full of joy, even, whilst as a pregnant and unmarried young girl she faced the harsh criticism of village life in Galilee. And we don’t have to use too much imagination in order to guess what the wagging tongues must have said about her.
But she was happy because she believed that God was at work in her life. Her faith allowed her to see that God hadn’t left her in trouble, but was working to bring new life, to the world through her. God’s presence in Mary would transform trouble into joy. The intense joy of giving birth to a baby who was God in human terms. The joy of watching this baby grow and develop and come to a full understanding of his relationship with God.
This is the way it can be for us too, and Mary becomes a model for us all. We can use this model as we think about Jesus, the world’s future being born through Mary into the world’s present. Just as the Spirit brought, first into the time of Mary, Jesus Christ who conquered death; the same spirit brings Christ to us as well, and begins to transform us into what God made us to be; that is, images of Jesus Christ who have, through him, also conquered death.
The Christmas season brings hope and promise that God doesn’t abandon his people. This season is all about God coming in unexpected ways. For those who wonder how God can be present in their trouble or pain, they need look no further than Mary, because in her story we have a first glimpse of what the Holy Spirit is going to do in Jesus, and of what through Jesus, he is then going to do in us all.
May God bless us all to an understanding of this.