Fourth Sunday of Advent 2017
Our order has dedicated each December as the Dominican Month for Peace. This year’s focus is on the peace accord brokered in Columbia between the National Government and guerrilla forces known as FARC. Special attention is being given to reconciliation efforts of our Dominican sisters and brothers in Catatumbo, Columbia.
What insights does our gospel have to offer in light of their efforts to forge peace in the region? Today’s gospel, the story of the Annunciation, recounts the “yes” of a Galilean peasant woman who was radically open to the presence of God in her life. The angelic announcement to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit hints at a reality that eludes us. Luke, the gospel writer, uses language powerfully suggestive of the creation story found in Genesis. If we listen, we can hear similarities: When the Earth was unformed and void and darkness covered the deep, the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters, creating light and life. When the power of sin and evil had plunged the world into chaos and darkness, the Spirit of God hovered over Mary, bringing to life the dawn of a new creation in Christ.
For thousands of years the Jewish people had waited for a savior who would inaugurate an age of peace. But first-century Galilee knew no peace. Galilee suffered under Roman oppression similar in historical context to the suffering of the poor and powerless in Colombia. Villagers in Nazareth were more than poor. They lived life at a subsistence level. On terraces cut into the hills they produced barely enough grain, olives, and grapes to feed themselves and their animals.
As Elizabeth Johnson notes, because they were unable to pay taxes to Rome, monies were skimmed off as a certain percentage of their crops. Collectors showed up at village threshing floors to scoop up the king’s portion of grain, cutting into what the peasants needed for sheer survival.
This created a climate for rebellion. Resentment frequently erupted into revolts, and Rome’s legions responded with brutal military force. Soldiers burned villages around Nazareth, slaughtering men, women and children, and enslaving friends and relatives. In describing the effects of a Roman siege, Josephus, the Jewish historian, wrote, “Galilee all over was filled with fire and blood.”
Into this primordial chaos came the same Spirit of God active in the first creation of life. But the new creation, the peaceable kingdom foretold by prophets of old, would not come easily or without conflict. Mary would suffer first the loss of her husband. She would then hold in her arms the tortured body of her crucified son.
The violence and social disruption that shaped Mary’s life has shaped the lives of the women of Catatumbo, Colombia. They too have suffered massacres, violence, the loss of their husbands and children. Reconciliation has begun with the signing of the peace accord. It has yet to be fully implemented.
In solidarity with the Colombians, let us dare to be people of peace in the chaos and darkness that surrounds us. The brooding presence of the Spirit still quickens the movement of new life in our times. How can we become God-bearers to those we meet? By our smallest acts of justice and random kindness let us embody the great story of God-with-us in our lives.
Meister Eckhart, a fourteenth century Dominican mystic wrote:
What good is it to me that Mary gave birth to the Son of God
fourteen hundred years ago, and I do not also give birth to the
Son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to
be mothers of God. God is always needing to be born.