Tonight as I write these words, I can hear the bells tolling from the Church of the Dormition in Jerusalem. I’ve traveled here to the Holy Land along with three other journalists to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, Mary and the Apostles. I really can’t think of a better place to ponder the meaning of Advent.
One of the first places we visited was the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. It’s built over the site where the Angel Gabriel is said to have appeared to the Virgin Mary some 2,000 years ago. Built in 1969 over the ruins of churches from the Crusader and Byzantine era, the basilica’s spire is tent-shaped, reminding visitors of the words of Leviticus that, “God has set His tent among His people.”
Across from the basilica is the International Center Mary of Nazareth. Sr. Beatrice Bourrat of the Chemin Neuf Community greeted us at the door, eager to share the good news about the center’s evangelization and education efforts.
A religious sister for 25 years, there’s a joy that radiates from her face. Her eyes sparkle when she talks about what it’s like to live just a stone’s throw from the place where the Virgin Mary became the Mother of God. I asked her what was unique about the Advent season in this sacred space.
“Under the altar of the grotto, you have the Latin words ‘Here the Word became flesh,’” Sr. Beatrice said. “It was in this very place. It happened here and it’s the only place in the world you can say here the Word became flesh. It’s here and now.”
Each morning, she and the other sisters receive Communion in the basilica.
“Then we pray just in front of the gate of the grotto. We stop there and it really makes a difference. You say, ‘Mary, thank you for offering your life to send us the coming of the Messiah, the Son of God.’”
As I stood before the grotto of the Annunciation alongside dozens of pilgrims from all over the world, I thought of the moment when Gabriel told Mary she would bear the Son of God. Imagine what an unexpected turn of events that must have been. And yet, after receiving a very simple explanation, Mary gives her consent without reservation and without demanding further details: “Let it be done unto me.”
This perfect trust in God, spoken so sincerely by Mary in Nazareth, is a wonderful example for us. One day, out of the blue, she finds out that she’s going to become the mother of the Messiah while she was still a virgin.
Think of a time in your life’s journey when the road took a sudden, unexpected turn. How did you react? Were you afraid? Did you wonder why things didn’t turn out the way you planned?
In those moments, it’s a blessing if we have someone like the Angel Gabriel at our side, someone who reminds us of God’s presence and unconditional love, someone who helps us trust in the Lord with all our hearts as Mary did.
I don’t mean the well-meaning people who offer worn-out expressions like, “When God closes a door, He always opens a window.” I’m talking about the kind of person who cries with us when we’re hurting and reminds us that God has a plan even when the future seems unclear.
We don’t always have all the answers but we do know this: God came into the world to save us as a tiny child, born of the Virgin Mary. During Advent, our hearts turn toward the place where a humble Virgin said yes to God and prepared the way for our salvation.
May the humble “yes” of Mary inspire us today to greater trust in God’s loving providence, wherever we might be in the world. It is then that we can prepare for the future with peaceful hearts, knowing that God’s plan for our lives is the work of a loving and wise Father.