Our Model of Hope
November 29, 2021
She belonged to a people who were suffering tremendously under Roman occupation. A people who had been taken advantage of, displaced, exiled, and held captive again and again—first by the Egyptians, then the Babylonians, then the Persians, then the Greeks and now the Romans. A people whose freedom, truly, was non-existent. She herself, a young woman in a male-dominated, patriarchal society, she didn’t have any rights. She wasn’t allowed to pursue an education. She had no say in marriage or divorce, let alone in any form of government. In fact, without a husband, who would take care of her? What would become of her?
How fitting it is that this young woman: Mary—no stranger to suffering or oppression, and all too familiar with living in a world where every reason for optimism had vanished—this young woman is given to us as Our Mother, the Mother of the Church. She is the model of what the Church is called to be. In His great wisdom, our Heavenly Father has given us in Mary the example of the response we should have in the midst of such need, in the face of such suffering, in the experience of such an impoverished condition. Mary sets an example for us when all hope seems lost.
During advent, we are invited to renew and deepen our hope and trust in God’s promises. Our visit to the Church of the Visitation provided us with an image of what it looks like to live in expectant hope—what it looks like to be vigilant, trusting in God’s faithfulness, even in the bleakest of circumstances when every reason for optimism has disappeared. Even in the most unpromising of situations, Mary remained hopeful. She never lost sight of God’s promise:
“The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise
I made to the house of Israel and Judah.
In those days, in that time,
I will raise up for David a just shoot;
he shall do what is right and just in the land.
In those days Judah shall be safe
and Jerusalem shall dwell secure;
this is what they shall call her:
‘The LORD our justice.’”
– Jer 33:14-16
Mary trusted this, the Lord’s promise. She lived in expectant hope, vigilantly keeping watch for God’s faithful provision, for God’s fulfillment of this promise. When the angel of the Lord declared unto Mary that the wait was over, that the Messiah had finally arrived; when she was told she would give birth to the One who was long awaited—the One who would rescue and restore Israel, delivering her from the foreign oppression that had plagued her people for so long; when this news was announced to her, Mary gave herself entirely to God. Trusting in God’s promise, ever vigilant and attentive to God’s movements and promptings, expectantly hopeful, Mary surrendered herself entirely to God’s will for her. How remarkable her yes is. How truly remarkable her faith-filled hope.
Keep in mind exactly what Mary undoubtedly knew when she gave her fiat. She wasn’t promised that accepting the Lord’s invitation would be easy. If anything, she was ensured a life of greater adversity than the one she already knew. The angel offered her an unexpected pregnancy outside of marriage, the risk of a broken engagement, and the likelihood of ostracism by family and friends. But knowing this—knowing what bearing Christ into the world would mean—certainly knowing already the amount of suffering she would face initially, she gave her response:
“I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.”
“I am the Lord’s servant, let it be done to me, all that you have said.”
Indeed, how truly remarkable is Mary’s faith-filled, expectant hope!
It was here at the Church of the Visitation, or a place very near it, that after being greeted by her cousin Elizabeth when visiting her, Mary’s faith-filled hope prompted her to sing a joyful song of praise:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.”
– Luke 1:46-55
It was Mary’s expectant hope, her trust in God’s faithfulness and goodness, that enabled her to sing these words—to rejoice without worrying about what adversity lay ahead, without fearing any pain or suffering she would endure in bearing Christ the Savior into the world. Mary’s hope in God gave her the ability to proclaim God’s greatness, regardless of the difficulties she knew she would encounter.
This Advent, let us ask for the intercession of Mary, our Model and our Mother. Vigilant and attentive, with faith-filled, expectant hope like hers, may we be as ready as she to say ‘Yes!’ to God’s call to bear Christ into the world. May we be as ready as she to risk what doing the will of God might mean in our day–to–day life. May we be as ready as she, to give of ourselves completely for the coming in unlikely, unpromising circumstances of the Savior of the world.
Deacon David Jameson
Diocese of Grand Rapids