4th Sunday of Advent
Dcn Tony van Vuuren
The Gospel account for this 4th Sunday of Advent is Luke’s version of the Annunciation story. It is about Mary’s “yes “and what that meant to her, her family and for all humanity. It prompts us to reflect on how we live our lives as well.
Many people and images will have come to mind as we have journeyed through these three weeks of Advent: John the Baptist has been the main protagonist; and with the feast of the Nativity a couple of days away we know that Joseph and Mary are on the road to Bethlehem, the shepherds will be hurrying to the stable, the magi will be scanning the night sky for that wondrous star. But there is another couple who played a key role in Jesus’ birth: his grandparents, Joachim and Anne. How often do we think of them at this time?
Scripture tells us nothing about Mary’s parents; so perhaps that’s a good reason why we don’t think about them! Even their names come from a second-century document, the Gospel of St James that combines legendary material along with details that may well be historical. Still, there is a long tradition that celebrates this holy couple. They were entrusted with the mission of creating a loving, nurturing home environment for the girl who would become the virgin Mother of God. If we ponder Jesus’ birth with Anne and Joachim in mind, we have another perspective on the story of the Annunciation. Take, for instance, this familiar passage from the Gospel of Matthew, and read it from Joachim and Anne’s point of view: “When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18)
Were Mary’s parents the first ones to discover that she was “with child”? Maybe Mary confided the news to her mother as they did laundry together or baked bread in the outdoor oven in the family courtyard. It’s not impossible! In Mary’s culture, a young woman in her early teens would surely have been living with her parents?
Unfortunately the Gospels focus on the essentials of the story without filling in the details, so we don’t know how Anne and Joachim reacted to Mary’s pregnancy. Still, we can imagine various scenarios. Maybe they regretted arranging a good marriage for their daughter. Maybe they were confused, disappointed, or angry at first. Did they shelter her or shun her? Since we honor Joachim and Anne as saints, their joint feast day being July 26th, we can assume that like Joseph, they were guided by the Spirit to the right conclusion and came to support Mary in her courageous YES. But surely this unexpected development took some getting used to! Within our own families, the announcement of any birth—whether shocking or not—requires us to make adjustments. The challenge of Mary’s pregnancy addresses each of us, too. It calls us to ask: “Am I ready to adjust my life to welcome Jesus this Advent? Can I let the celebration of his birth bring me something new, something more than what I expected from God last year—or five years ago?”
As we think about Joachim and Anne awaiting this one-of-a-kind grandson, perhaps we will gain new openness to God’s surprises this Christmas. Anne and Joachim are often invoked as patrons of married couples who struggle with infertility. This is because the ancient manuscript depicts them as having been childless for decades. According to this source, the couple sought God’s intervention for a very long time, begging him together for the gift of a child. Waiting for God to answer our prayers is an experience we can all relate to. What examples come to mind in your own life? How long have you waited? A month? A year? Five years? Have you waited and prayed alone, or have you had the support of a spouse or a friend? Are you waiting on God to answer a prayer right now? Maybe there is someone we could invite to pray along with us.
Surely Anne and Joachim prayed together, just as Abraham and Sarah, and Zechariah and Elizabeth must have done. In the end, this couple’s long, shared journey of faith-filled waiting only added to their joy when Mary was born. According to an old tradition, they presented her in the Temple, filled with thanksgiving at what God had done for them.
Whatever the facts of their lives, the truth is that it would have been Mary’s parents who nurtured her, taught her, brought her up to be a worthy Mother of God. It was their teaching that led her to respond to God’s request with faith’ “Let it be done to me as you will.” It was their faith that laid the foundation of courage and strength that allowed her to stand by the cross as her son was crucified and still believe. This is a key point for all of us. For in the final analysis, faith is not something we drum up on our own. It’s a gift given to us by a gracious, generous God. It’s a grace that he pours into us, a potent seed that is waiting to be planted into the soil of our hearts. We may think we have weak faith, but the truth is God has given us all the faith we will ever need. We just have to learn how to yield to this great gift. May these holy grandparents teach us how to be open to God’s surprises. May they teach us the blessings of patience and faithfulness. And may they help us see that we are all part of the large, wonderful story of God’s love for his people!
Ref: Theresa Boucher