Lectio Divina for the 4th Sunday of Advent 12/20/20

Lectio Divina for the 4th Sunday of Advent 12/20/20

By David Kilby


LK 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God

to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,

to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,

of the house of David,

and the virgin’s name was Mary.

And coming to her, he said,

“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

But she was greatly troubled at what was said

and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Then the angel said to her,

“Do not be afraid, Mary,

for you have found favor with God.

“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.”

But Mary said to the angel,

“How can this be,

since I have no relations with a man?”

And the angel said to her in reply,

“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.

And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,

has also conceived a son in her old age,

and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;

for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.

May it be done to me according to your word.”

Then the angel departed from her.


“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

Nothing the Angel Gabriel says should be taken lightly, especially his first words to Mary. These words are also the first words we speak when addressing her in one of the Church’s most beloved prayers. Countless saints have repeated these words as they recited the Rosary. Just about any line from this narrative of the Incarnation in this Sunday’s readings deserves deeper reflection, but these words, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you” should hold special significance in our hearts and minds, for they were the first words spoken between heaven and earth in the annunciation of the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Should anyone doubt Mary’s importance in the Gospel story, they need only read these words to see that heaven itself hailed her to be part of it. Furthermore, this verse is an encapsulation of the state our own soul should be in before receiving Jesus, just as Mary received him upon Gabriel’s annunciation. We ought to be “full of grace” before receiving Communion, meaning free of sin. Nothing the Church teaches is arbitrary, and in fact it’s all based in Scripture. Just as the words “Hail, full of grace” provide the basis for needing to be in the state of grace before receiving Communion, it is also the basis of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. God did not choose Mary arbitrarily on the day Gabriel appeared; but he preserved her from original sin at the moment of her conception so she would be a suitable tabernacle for the Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church may have never recognized the significance of Gabriel’s introductory words, but with that guidance the angel’s words make perfect sense.

But she was greatly troubled at what was said

If she was immaculately conceived and free from sin, why was Mary troubled? And why did Gabriel have to say, “Do not be afraid”? Many may think she was simply troubled because she was in the presence of an angel, which must have been frightening. Perhaps, but consider a different meditation on these words. You may be familiar with the Seven Sorrows of Mary. Her sorrows were not the result of her sin, for she had none. Instead, they come from experiencing how her son took on the sins of the world, and seeing what pain it caused him. If Mary is troubled at the appearance of Gabriel, it may be because she already knows what this appearance means. She thus knows why Gabriel has come to her, and she is at least aware that this apparition is a foreshadowing of trials to come, even if she may not know the particulars. 

She pondered what sort of greeting this might be

Interestingly, Mary is said to have pondered, or “kept these things in her heart” after Jesus was found in the Temple twelve years later, and he said, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). It’s easy to glance over Mary’s role in Scripture. The lines allotted to her are brief and sparse. However, they hold great importance and are in very significant parts of the Gospel story. As a faithful Jew, Mary would have known about the coming Messiah. She probably heard about it every day through her daily reading of Scripture. In today’s first reading from Samuel we read, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.'” (2 Samuel 7:16)  In the psalm we read, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one/I have sworn to David my servant/Forever will I confirm your posterity/and establish your throne for all generations” (Psalm 89:4-5). When Mary pondered what Gabriel’s greeting might be, might she have known about the possibility that she was being chosen to be the Mother of God? When Gabriel appeared, Mary was already immaculately conceived. We may never know how much Mary knew, but that she pondered the mysteries of Jesus’ incarnation and earthly life is enough to meditate on; and she may even reveal to us what she knew if we spend this time with her. May our reading of Scripture always be an invitation to get to know the Holy Family more.

He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High … of his kingdom there will be no end

When the world has gone crazy, it could be hard to believe that God has everything under control. Authorities could subject us to ungodly demands, but we know the Son of the Most High will have the final word. The nations of this world will pass away, but Christ’s kingdom will have no end. We ended the Liturgical Year with the Feast of Christ the King, and Christ’s kingship has been a theme throughout Advent. On this last Sunday of Advent, we get the official annunciation that he is coming; the king we’ve all been waiting for is coming. 

the power of the Most High will overshadow you

Mary questions, and Gabriel answers. If only all prayers were answered so promptly. Think of how many times we’ve asked God, “Why does it have to be this way?” and no angel appeared to give us an answer. This isn’t an invitation to get angry at God, because he has not abandoned us. The truth I mean to point out is that the answer is right in front of us, so close we overlook it. God answers our prayers through Scripture. It is his word. So while it may seem like God is showing Mary favor (well, he does but that’s besides the point), in reality he is just as ready to answer our questions as Gabriel was, if we would only meet him in his word, as we are doing now. 

nothing will be impossible for God

God is following through on his promises, as he always does. Mary may not have known how it all was going to happen, but she knew a saviour would come and free us from bondage. We may not know how God is going to answer our prayers, but it is still enough to simply believe that he will. Nothing is out of his reach. 

May it be done to me according to your word

As we come to the end of the meditation on the Gospel reading on the Annunciation, it becomes clear that the whole account is the perfect structure for prayer. Heaven speaks to us, we listen. We ponder what is being said, what is occurring. We then speak to God, ask questions, make petitions. In the quiet we listen and wait for an answer. Then, lastly, we make a willful resolution to submit to God as Mary does. Without this last step, without inviting God into our lives and our hearts so he can do his will through us, the prayer has no lasting effect. 


God incarnate, you fill us with grace to do your will if we simply ask. Give us the courage to face the fears that inevitably come when we do so. Teach us to always be attentive to the truths you reveal along the Way, and how to ponder them as Mary did. You are the king of the universe. You are God and became man, you were born of a virgin, and you rose from the dead. Nothing is impossible for those who believe in you. May your kingdom come, may your will be done.


God speaks not only in the silence but in our everyday lives. In these days leading up to our Savior’s birth, let him show you how he is working in your life. Don’t get so caught up in Christmas planning. Listen closely to the divine whisper in the midst of the hustle and bustle. This is what it means to remember that Christ is the reason for the season.



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