[Homily: Simbanggabi, Dec 20, 2017]
On the fifth day of our Simbanggabi we are at the midpoint of our nine-day novena of dawn Masses. But I think it can also be said that on this day we recall the absolute pivotal midpoint of salvation history. From our Gospel reading, what we immediately recall is the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel’s words that we repeat in every Hail Mary: Hail, full of Grace! The Lord is with you.” At these words, Mary was greatly troubled, confused, afraid. The Angel responded to her fear: “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High…and of his Kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary was a virgin. She asks: “But how shall this be, since I have no relations with a man.” The Angel replied, “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.” The announcement was made. The plan of God was exposed. But it was not yet a fact. The entire plan of the salvation of humankind and the created world was made contingent on the free consent of the virgin from Nazareth. The entire plan pivoted on whether Mary would say yes or no. Mary’s response was clear an unequivocal. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” At that instant, Mary conceives Jesus in her womb. Through Mary’s consent, the Annunciation became the Incarnation. In Mary’s immaculate womb, the Word of Father, a word of Love, became flesh. This is why to this date, the Church celebrates the Annunciation nine months before the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Nine months after Mary consents to be the Mother of the Messiah and conceives, she gives birth to the Child, wraps him in swaddling clothes, and lays him in a manger.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius has a central meditation on the Incarnation. It is a meditation which pivots on the mystery of the Annunciation. But the focus of the mediation is less on the free consent of Mary to God’s plan of salvation, and more on the free consent of God to the to this plan. The exercitant is invited, as we are all invited today, to gain insight into what it was in the mind of the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, that moved him to freely consent to the Incarnation. For the Incarnation need not have occurred. The Word need not have become flesh, need not have been born into this inhospitable environment, need not have consented to the journey that would lead him to the Cross. So Ignatius invites the exercitant to do what is without grace absolutely impossible, to enter as it were into the mind of God, and with the eyes of God regard the world and its human population, and gain insight into how the God of Creation responds. You are invited to hear what people are saying on the face of the earth, to see what people are doing, not with your eyes but with the eyes of God, responding not with your emotions but with the emotions as it were of God. What people are saying: some people are conversing about problems they have at home or at work, some people are sharing news, others are fabricating fake news, some people are teaching history or physics or mathematics, others are insisting on the absolute priority of maximum profits, the necessity of corrupt practices, the euphoric experience of substance abuse. Some are speaking of a compassionate God of peace, others of God’s for war against peace. Some are speaking words of love, others manipulative words in the guise of love. What people are doing: some making love, others making war; some helping the poor, the elderly, the needy, others oppressing the helpless and the vulnerable; some creating goods to respond to human needs, others creating powerful needs to consume created goods; some designing and building awesome green skyscrapers, others building intercontinental missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction, some working to advance the common good, others rejecting the common good to pursue but selfish and private goods. In regarding the world that you and I live in, with its virtue and vice, love and hatred, war and peace, liberation and manipulation, God did not turn his back on the world, but affirmed it, he did not destroy the world, he preserved it; he did not distance himself from the world, he entered it; he did not despise its humanity, he affirmed it. In entering it, he did not merely say that it was good; he made it good, conjoining his divinity to humanity, his sacredness to profanity, his holiness to what had been defiled. He did not have to do this; he did it, attracted by the breath of your life, the surprise of your consciousness, the drama of your dreams, the courage of your commitments, the depth of your problems, the joy of your successes, the disappointment of your failures. He did it, drawn by the excitement of your ambitions, the achievements of your genius, but repelled by your hatred, your pettiness, your wars, your violence, your murders, your stealing, your adultery. He did it, teaching the primacy of the Kingdom of God. He did it, exercising a free and awesome brand of gratuitous love.
In this messy world of drug cartels, and extrajudicial killings, and religious wars and violent extremism, and the Kingdom of authoritarian power and militarism challenging constitutional liberties, they killed him for this insistence on the Kingdom of God. There is no room for the Kingdom of God in a world where people refuse to recognize God. There is no room for the Kingdom of God in a world where people refuse to recognize that dignity of the human being for whom God chose to be incarnate. Yet to this world our Scripture proclaims, “The virgin herself shall conceive and bear a son, and she shall name him Emmanuel,” God with us. That is the awesome mystery of the Incarnation. God is with us. He doesn’t have to be. He is. That is the Incarnation. God says yes to us. He doesn’t take it back. When we enter into his mind-considering-the-Incarnation, we find not a concept of love, we find love.
The love is made flesh. We are invited to respond in in the flesh. In love.