We have two beautiful homilies by Father Hanly for 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B: “’Be It Done To Me According To Your Word’” and “Surrender.”
“Be It Done To Me According To Your Word”
Readings for Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B
- First Reading: Second Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
- Second Reading: Romans 16:25-27
- Gospel: Luke 1:26-38
It’s hard to believe that Christmas is upon us once again.
I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Christmas, not because of the presents and all of the good food and all of the feeling, the general feeling of closeness (people seem to be closer to each other during this festive time).
And these are all wonderful things, but I have the feeling that each year what it says to me is: I am acceptable. I don’t have to change. I don’t have to do wonderful things. I don’t have to perform. I do not have to avoid all the terrible dark things in life that I hear about.
None of these things matter. None of these things should be even my own personal care. I should not ruminate over failures. I should not feel, “Well, I should be better than I am but it seems so hard to be better and I always feel that I’m less than I’d hoped to be.”
Because today a child is born to us.
And the child is just a helpless, little child. A child who will dream dreams. A child who will be loved. A child who will be cared for. A child who will grow up and face the world in all its wonder, in all its sadness and in all its sorrow. A child that will feel love and feel rejection. A child who is the Son of God.
And I think that’s what Christmas is. The gift of the Father. The gift of his Father is love. And we take this love into our hearts and into our lives. And we know that this is what is important: to care for him, to give him a place, to make him able to function, even, through our own lives. And this is what Christmas means.
And how he should choose such weak, such hopeless, such ordinary people to be the light of the world, the saviours of the world, the ones who will do his Father’s will.
I think this is what Christmas means in very, very simple terms: I have loved, I love, and now I am ready to live my life. Everything else, as they say, is commentary.
The one who seems to fit this picture best of all is Mary in today’s Gospel — Mary, this teenage, unmarried mother, about ready to give birth to a child.
We are now eight months earlier and she’s in Nazareth. And she’s just a simple Jewish maiden from a small town named Nazareth in an unimportant country named Palestine.
And here the angel appears to her and says to her, “Blessed are you among women, for God has chosen you to bring forth the Messiah, the long awaited Christos, God Himself.”
And you would think that Mary would be overjoyed, because all the young women of Israel must have wondered and pondered and dreamed that some day they too would be the one chosen to bring the great promise made to Abraham, the great promise made to (inaudible) that a messiah would come.
And yet all the good in all the towns and all the wondrous ladies were disappointed, because a simple, illiterate maiden, perhaps seventeen years old, from the smallest of villages, is the one God sends Gabriel, to tell her, to ask her, if she would be the mother of the Messiah, the Son of God.
And what does she say?
She shrinks back, she’s frightened, she’s upset. Who is she? She herself knows what she is: nothing more, nothing less, than a simple maiden in a small town. And then she wonders. She’s not even married.
And so, in many of the great paintings in Florence, you will see the moment of her decision.
She shrinks back (inaudible). And rightly so. Because she doesn’t (inaudible).
And if she says yes, her whole life will be radically changed. And if she says yes, there will be no room for herself at all in a life that is lived in order that her child might be known, might be cared for, and might be loved.
And finally she says to the angel, “How is this possible? I know not man.”
And the angel looks at her and says, “Do not be afraid, for the Holy Spirit will overshadow you and the birth of this child will come and he will be known as the Son of God.”
This is a wonderful preparation for Christmas because I think that Luke wants to tell us now that Mary now says, in those very famous words, not “I am happy to do this. It’s wonderful that you picked me,” she says, “Be it done according to Thy word.”
At this moment, Mary takes on flesh. And the child that is born of her has the flesh of Mary, the eyes of Mary, the ears of Mary, the loveliness of Mary, the humanity of Mary.
And many years later, when she holds him after they take him down from the cross, he, his last words, will be echoes of those that she herself said, “Be it done to me according to Your word,” when he gives his life into the hands of his Father.
Mary then is something very special for all of us because Mary is the model that we are called to follow.
We think we should model ourselves after Jesus. No one can model themselves after the Son of God. But here is our nature’s solitary boast. Mary is the model because she’s totally and completely human.
And why is it passed on to us?
Think of it now. How is this child to be known? How is this child to be enfleshed in the world in which we live, unless it is through us?
It is Mary’s faith that makes the incarnation possible. And it is our faith that makes the incarnation possible in our own world.
It is we, and our faith, it is this that brings the Child to the world. It brings new meaning to our families, to grow with us, to be with us. And it is through the goodness of our own faith, one with him, that the love of God is to be radiated out into the whole world.
If it all comes to a matter of faith, we should be as frightened as Mary.
Because God calls to each and every one of us. He says, “The Child is yours. I put him under your protection, under your guidance, under your love, and it is you who will reveal him to each other.”
Faith is very important. My favourite faith story is a little lighter than what has happened so far.
What is faith, now?
You say, well, faith is what you put your faith in, that’s what faith is.
There’s a story that I like to tell about faith.
In the old days, in New York, where I come from, in upstate New York, there’s Niagara Falls on the Canadian border. It’s very famous, Niagara Falls. Everybody that was getting married used to go up to Niagara Falls to get married, because it was such a wondrous thing.
And the Falls were dangerous and high.
A lot of men, trying to show how brave they were, would put themselves into barrels, and tar the barrels with pitch, and then they’d throw themselves over the Falls. Now, many of them died, but some survived.
Then another group decided they would show how brave they were. They would throw a cable across the mouth of the Falls (it was quite a long distance) and they would tie the cable at each end. And then they would walk across it like tightrope walkers, with a bar.
And that faded a little bit, so one gentleman decided that he was going to outdo this, and he would take a wheelbarrow. And he’d put a man in the wheelbarrow and he’d wheel him on this little wire all the way across the pounding waters of Niagara Falls.
And everybody would be gathered at the other end, just waiting breathlessly to see if he could do it. Because there were no nets.
Anyhow, he would start and keep pushing. And he’d get a little bit of the way and then he’d get a little nervous, and then he’d pull himself together again and push a bit further. And this would go on.
And the little man in the front is afraid to look over the Falls. And everyone is beginning to cheer, “You can do it, you can do it.”
And he finally gets him over, across the Falls, and he dumps him on the ground, and everybody cheers and says that’s wonderful.
And the little man shakes his hand and he says, “You know, at first, I had my doubts, but now I’m going to put my whole faith in you every time.”
And so the tightrope walker looks at him and he says, “You have faith in me?”
“Yes, I have faith in you.”
So he says, “Well jump in and I’ll take you back.”
It takes a lot of faith to let him take him back.
The difference between the faith of Mary and our faith is we’re all willing to go so far, and then, of course, our faith begins to fade.
But Mary is there for the whole journey, all the way over, and all the way back.
And this is the kind of faith that we’re supposed to run our lives with. This is the kind of faith that God says, “Mary, blessed are you among women, because God has chosen you to be the one to reveal the Messiah to the whole world.”
And, of course, this is what is asked of us.
And Mary knew that most of all when she took her dead child into her arms and she did what Jesus did and offered him to his Father.
And from that moment on, it has been a part of Christian tradition always to stay close to Mary, for she will teach us how to receive him, to live with him, to be with him and also (inaudible).
Christmas is not something that happened to other people many, many centuries ago.
It happens every day when we bring our faith together and say to God, “Take my life. Be it done to you and be it done to me according to Your word.”
In this wonderful homily for 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B, Father Hanly shows us how we, like Mary, are called to surrender our whole lives to God.
Readings for Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B
- First Reading: Second Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
- Second Reading: Romans 16:25-27
- Gospel: Luke 1:26-38
In case you hadn’t noticed, Christmas is here. Christmas really begins with today’s Gospel, and it’s the lovely Gospel, the Gospel according to St Luke.
And it has the angel Gabriel coming from God to a little town in Galilee called Nazareth, and to a little virgin girl, probably no more than fifteen or sixteen years old, betrothed to a man named Joseph of the House of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.
“All life begins with tenderness,” says the poet Péguy. And this passage of Scripture is full of kindness and tenderness and quiet and respect, not only from the angel, but from Mary and all the characters in it. And this is modest and quiet and lovely.
And yet what happens in this very short passage is so incredible that it will last to the end of time, and it will be the key and understanding of all history from all nations.
For this is the time when God Himself becomes man, takes on flesh and a whole new understanding of our creator and Lord, a whole new understanding of who we are and what is expected of us, a whole new understanding of the meaning of life and the purpose of this crazy, sometimes full of turmoil, sometimes full of joy, life itself.
And who are the major characters?
A little girl, a teenage girl. And the whole world hangs on whether or not she will say yes. Because God does not force her and Gabriel lets her know that it is up to her to say, “Yes, I will do this.”
The beginning that Gabriel …
Gabriel is an archangel, and Gabriel is one of the four major archangels that appear throughout the Gospel. The word Gabriel means “the strong one” and he is very strong.
And Gabriel says to Mary,
“Hail, full of grace!”
Grace, as you know, the word grace is used all the time: “he graced me with his presence,” “full of grace.”
What does grace mean?
Basically, what grace means is God’s loving presence. So now we say, the angel says, “You are full of God’s loving presence.” The Lord is with you, not just with you because He’s your creator, He is with you because He loves you and fills you with His joyful acceptance of you.
It’s so sweet and yet so few words are used. And he is saying it because Mary is frightened to death. She was greatly troubled, Luke tells us, greatly troubled.
And why would she be greatly troubled?
She was only a teenager, she wasn’t married and, all of a sudden, in her quiet prayer in her quiet room, this comes to her and the angel appears to her. And she is all afear.
If you go to Florence, the home of all the wonderful artists and artwork of the Renaissance, many of the pictures of Mary are painted at the moment the angel tells her she is going to be the mother of the Messiah.
And in every picture, her face is full of fear and she’s backing away. And it seems as if she would like to run and hide some place, because this is incredible, a thing that she doesn’t even totally understand what it is.
Then the angel says to her, “Mary, do not be afraid.”
You all know those words. Jesus used them after the Resurrection. Every time he saw his disciples, every time he saw people backing away and confused and lost and feeling he was gone forever, the first words he would say, “Do not be afraid.”
And why is that?
Because, the truth be told, this world is run by fear. We are all walking very closely to the edge of fear, and most of the decisions we make are not made in the light of God and in the happiness of life, they’re made out of fear and of the tension that it brings.
And so the angel says quickly to her, “Do not be afraid.”
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favour with God.”
Favour is another word for grace. Favour and grace means that you have found a special love.
And that special love is given to you freely. And you have nothing to fear, for if you put your faith in God’s love, everything, whatever happens, will come out for you, and you will be able to carry on the burden that He will now lay upon you.
“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 the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And, of course, these are the words that are the response to the First Reading, when David starts off by telling his prophet Nathan that he intends to build a house for God.
Now that everything has been settled down, he’s going to build a temple for God — until Nathan tells God what David has in mind and God comes back to him and He says, “You are going to build a house for me? I who have created you, I who have loved you, I who have put you in great honour here, and now you’re going to build a little house for me?”
And then David understands that the house that God builds for Himself will be the womb of Mary, because out of Mary’s womb will come the incarnate God, Jesus our Lord. And this will be the house that everyone from that time on will come. It will be the temple, the temple of God, the place of God will be in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God.
Mary says, “But how can this be?” She’s not backing away from it now, but she is saying, “How is it possible, for I am not married, I do not have a man.”
Then the angel says those magic words,
“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.
This is a marvellous and wonderful use of just short words to try to express and contain why we’re all sitting here, why we’re here today, getting ready for Christmas, and looking for all kinds of stuff that’s wonderful but also a lot of nonsense and a worry about so many things.
But this is the magic of Christmas. It is the magic of “God becomes man and dwells among us” and “Do not be afraid.”
What is Mary going to answer?
She says very humbly,
Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.
There’s a great lesson here. To reach the depths of relationship with God Himself, there is one thing absolutely essential that we all must understand: all God’s life begins with surrender, total and complete surrender.
And that’s why the angel is so gentle. He’s asking her to forget all the dreams of a young girl, all the wonders of what is going to come, and he is saying, “Your future is bound up with the surrender of your whole life to God Himself.”
This is a great sacrifice. But she, being who she is, knows that there has been a greater sacrifice.
And that greater sacrifice does not come from her, that greater sacrifice, that total giving of oneself and one’s future and everything in it, is going to be not hers alone, it is going to be her son’s. For the Son of God will become a little helpless crying baby infant, and it will begin his long journey of learning and knowing what it is to be a human being, and he will have to give everything.
And how is he going to live?
Everyone will watch, because it is in his living of his human life that we will be healed and saved. And we will come to know what it means for God to sacrifice His own greatness and put Himself as a little child in the hands of a teenage mother and begin to change the whole understanding of life for all ages and all times.
And what is that for us?
In one word, Christmas is the time when we ourselves become one with Jesus. His life becomes our life. And we, too, like Mary, we are called not just to take her as a hobby and take the Lord as a kind of weekend lark, every bit of us must give surrender to the little Child in the manger.
And if we are able to do that — and we fail many times and we come back to it again, and fail again and come back to it again — it is in loving Jesus, learning from Jesus how to live, that we learn things, not about how to get ahead or what to study or what place to go to school etc, etc, but we learn how to feel compassion, forgiveness, love, caring, understanding.
And this is the great mystery of God: you have to surrender. Even God has to surrender in order that we might become people who can free form a new world, a world that is based on God’s love, our love, Mary’s love, the love of each and every one of us brought together to begin the journey to create the new world.
It’s a little bit too early to say Merry Christmas. But, for those who will not be here next week and have gone off to the many places you all go off to, may you have a holy, a happy, a forgiving, a lovely and, most of all, a feeling deep down inside that you are very precious.
Because God Himself was envious and He was not happy until He became as you have, a little child, growing to adulthood, coping with life, and becoming, truly, a human being.
FAQ for Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B
|When is 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B, in 2023?||24th December 2023|
|What is the title of Father Hanly’s homily for Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B?||"Be It Done To Me According To Your Word" and "Surrender"|
|What is the next homily by Father Hanly in this Liturgical Cycle? ||Christmas Day, Year B|
|Who was Father Hanly?||Father Denis J. Hanly was a Maryknoll Missionary|
|How can we find other homilies by Father Hanly?||By Liturgical Calendar or by topic or by title|
Information about Father Hanly’s homilies for 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B
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If you would like to use our transcripts of either of these sermons (updated 2023), please contact us for permission.
Father Hanly's sermon for 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B, "Be It Done To Me According To Your Word" was delivered on 21st December 2008. Father Hanly's sermon for 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B, "Surrender" was delivered on 18th December 2011. It is sometimes hard to accurately transcribe Father Hanly's reflections, so please let us know if you think we have made a mistake in any of our transcripts, and let us have your suggestions.
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