Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on December 20 and 21, 2014 on the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B) at the 4:00PM (Vigil), 8:00AM, and 10:30AM Masses
I work at PNC and we have to use up all of our vacation days before the end of the year and so I took a day off his past week to go to the movies. I liked two choices: a movie based on my favorite book growing up (The Hobbit) and a movie based on my favorite book as an adult (The Bible). I chose to go the spiritual route and so I and a mostly empty bus from a local Baptist church watched the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings, a modern retelling of the story of Moses. It’s a good movie, but because of the special effects and the battle scenes, the movie is closer to The Hobbit than it is to The Ten Commandments, and so I really got to see both movies at the same time.
A big problem that many have had with the film (and I have to agree) is the fact that God does not have the booming voice he has in The Ten Commandments, but God is in fact an eleven year old boy. Charlton Heston wasn’t available when this movie was made of course, but surely James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman could have spared some time to provide a voice with some authority. We expect God to be powerful and loud. Another problem that people have had with the film is that they believe that the spiritual side of the story is missing in favor of the drama and special effects. But you can’t eliminate the spirituality from the story because God is an integral part of what happens and an integral part of who Moses becomes.
I am happy to report that the spiritual side of the story of Moses remains in the film, it’s just that with all that going on in the movie in 3D and digital surround sound, the spiritual side of the story is hard to find.
Isn’t that just like our own lives? We have so much going on and so much noise around us (especially during Christmas), that so often it’s hard to connect with or find our spiritual side. We might give an hour or so from our busy lives on Saturday or Sunday to go to Mass, but so often we don’t do much more spiritually the rest of the week. We’re just so busy. Sometimes we are so busy that we have to eliminate things from our schedule and our spirituality is often the first to go.
Today’s gospel story of the Annunciation can help us to reconnect to the spiritual side of our lives. Mary’s encounter with the angel is an outline for our encounters with the spiritual, our encounters with God.
The angel said to Mary, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” We say that so often as Catholics. When we say the rosary, we acknowledge Mary’s grace and the fact that the Lord is with her. But we so often fail to recognize that God is also with us, present in our own lives and just like Mary he is pouring his grace upon us, and so often we’re just too busy to recognize him and receive his grace.
In many ways I think we are waiting for the God of The Ten Commandments, a voice of authority booming above all the noise in our lives. But I think that for most of us God is much more likely to be the God of the Exodus movie, the voice of a whispering child. We should think that because we are so out of touch with our spiritual side, that if God spoke to us through a burning bush as he did with Moses or an angel as he did with Mary, we would most likely call the doctor or 911 because we would think there was something wrong with us. Because we are so out of touch with God, he speaks to us quietly so that we are not frightened off.
You may notice in the gospel that what is not said is probably just as important as what is said. The angel never asks Mary, “Will you do what God is asking of you?” God already knows that Mary’s answer is “yes.” You will also notice that Mary never questions the angel, “Who me? \God wants me to do what?” But she simply asks, “How?” How will it be done? Mary’s acceptance of God’s will changed her life and the lives of each one of us.
So often we are like Moses. We doubt God and we doubt ourselves. “Who me? You want me to do what?” We give excuses and try to talk our way out of the things that God is asking of us. We want to keep doing what we want to do. But like Mary, we are each a special part of God’s plan of salvation. We are not going to be asked to be the Mother of God, of course, but God has given us unique gifts and talents to do very special things. It may be to be a priest like Father Bob, or a deacon like Jim and I, to serve in the parish or the community, to visit, care for, or be a friend to someone who needs us, or simply to be a good Christian or raise a good Christian family. But whatever God’s plan is for us, by responding “yes” it will change our lives and the lives of those around us.
The angel Gabriel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid.” The angel never says to her that it’s going to be easy or that there aren’t going to be any problems, but simply, “Do not be afraid.” God has a plan to work through her that involves the salvation of the entire world and she is told, “Do not be afraid.” She will become pregnant before marriage, subjecting her to ridicule and probably certain death by stoning, and she is told, “Do not be afraid.” She is able to respond, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” because she is not afraid.
“Do not be afraid” is mentioned dozens if not hundreds of times in scripture. Jesus said it to his disciples, angels said it to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, and God said it to Moses. When Moses eventually put aside his fears to do God’s will and lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land, Moses said to them, “Do not be afraid. God is with us.” That is the message for us today and always. No matter what God has planned for us or what God has called us to do; no matter what is going on in our lives: the pain, the suffering, the illness, the handicaps, the addictions, the brokenness, and the imperfections; do not be afraid, God is with us.
The message of the Annunciation and the story of Christmas is Emmanuel, God is with us. God is waiting to be an integral part of what happens in our life and an integral part of who we become. We need to recognize him in our life, put aside our fears, and respond to what he is whispering for us to do, just as Mary did.
As we come forward to receive “God With Us” in the Eucharist today, remember that this extraordinary gift was made possible in part because a seemingly ordinary woman from the town of Nazareth in Galilee recognized God in her life and she responded completely and without fear knowing “Nothing is impossible for God.”
Rejoice and be glad!