Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 23, 2018 / By: Phillip Rolnick

Mi 5:1-4a/Heb 10:5-10/Lk 1:39-45


Since its inception, one of the most important words in Christianity has been “and.” In fact, in the second century, denying this “and” was the essence of the first heresy, the Gnostic teaching which declared that Jesus was purely God, too pure to be human. Many centuries later, in the so-called Enlightenment, many would veer toward the opposite pole, declaring (or, more often, whispering) that Jesus was not really God, that he was simply a great human teacher. But ever since the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), the Church has held that Jesus was “truly God and truly man.” Christianity lives in this strange linkage—affirming that Jesus really was human, and that he really was divine.

This strange joining of God and humankind was already present in the Annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). When the angel Gabriel tells Mary that “The Lord is with you,” Mary was understandably startled; she was “much perplexed by his words.” Neither goddess nor angel, Mary had a very human reaction to the extraordinary announcement and “pondered” its meaning.

When further told that, by the action of the Holy Spirit, she will bear the child who “will be called Son of God,” Mary responds, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” It is God’s plan and initiative, but it is Mary’s human response that completes the link. Mary’s assent is crucial to the Christian story—a story that links God and humankind.

While countless billions have now pondered the advent of Jesus the God-man, his life-giving power is released only when we assent. There will be no coercion; apparently, it is not the divine way.

Phillip Rolnick
Professor, Theology