Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
Month December 1, 2003
Advent hails Mary, full of grace
Advent is our time of grace. It is the time when Mary - she who is "full of grace" - moves to the forefront of the biblical story.
In calling Mary "daughter of Sion," we learn much about salvation. We learn that salvation only comes to those who are empty, who know their incompleteness. In Old Testament times, the daughter of Sion was not a person, but a place. It was the villages and rural areas outside the city of Sion where lived those who had fled the defeated regions of the North. It was the home of refugees, those who had nothing.
When the prophets Micah and Zephaniah tell of God bringing salvation to the daughter of Sion, they are saying it is the lame, the afflicted and "a people humble and lowly" who will see the coming of the Lord. It is this remnant of the people, those who have nothing and who have no prospects of having any of the riches of this world, who are open to salvation.
In the Christian tradition, Mary is the daughter of Sion. Because she has nothing, she can be full of faith and hence full of grace. She is chosen to be God's instrument of redemption because she is empty.
How ironic that this time of redemption through weakness comes during the season when our bloated North American society is plunged into an orgy of materialism! We are so focused on celebration through an accumulation of more and more, we are nearly blind to the daughter of Sion. We are so intent on making our own non-eternal salvation through frenzied activity, we are unable to see that real salvation is a gift.
The greatest foolishness of our era is the assumption that we do not need grace. We can do it all ourselves.
"By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).
Mary, who says little in Scripture except to "proclaim the greatness of the Lord," points us to the One who gives grace.
Grace, moreover, is not some thing. It is the presence of God. It is not so much a specific action by God as it is his all-pervading presence. And so salvation is not the reward for those who die as much as it is God's-being-toward-us and our being-toward-God.
We don't just meet God after death; we meet him in our daily lives. His grace is presence. Now.
The Incarnation is the fulfillment of the prophets who were so disparaging of a worship that looked for God everywhere but in the now. Some saw wealth, good health and good luck as signs of God's favour. Few saw the sick and impoverished ones living in the daughter of Sion as evidence of God's real presence.
In Christian worship we hope for what we already possess, for what has already been given to us. In Christian worship, we thank God for what we are not because it provides the opportunity for God to make us whole. And because of God's presence within us, we are harbingers of righteousness, justice and peace. We are God's instruments in making whole that which is incomplete.
The Church is not primarily an organization with laws, rituals and controversies. It is the occasion of grace becoming active in the world. It is where we - sinners and wounded ones that we are - participate in the life of God. The Church is the occasion for justice to break into our world.
The world was broken by Adam's sin. But sin is not the final answer. Sin is the opportunity for God to make fullness of life out of death.
Mary is full of grace. We are full of grace too. But to recognize grace, we need to recognize our emptiness.
We need to recognize that our reason for being is not to achieve and to possess, but to be in such a way that God can make us who we are meant to be. Advent, whenever it occurs, is our time of that recognition.
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