Feast of the Annunciation
God’s invitation and Mary’s “yes,” which we celebrate today, began a journey. Pregnancy and birth both wondrous and shameful. Surprising shepherds and sages. Simeon said amazing things about Jesus and then to Mary: “a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”[i]
Jesus was born into, lived, and died in community: family, neighbors, friends, and through it all, his mother Mary. She and Joseph anxiously searched three days for 12-year-old Jesus when he went missing. At the wedding in Cana, Mary prompted about the wine running out. Perhaps a push and pull, the mother encouraging her son to live into his vocation.
At the cross, Mary and the beloved disciple stood before Jesus. “Woman, behold your son. … Behold, your mother.”[ii] Perhaps Jesus is focused on giving her into the care of his friend. But what if Jesus speaks first of himself? “Woman, behold your son.” Look at me.
And the angel said, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” Or, as another translation has it, “for no word from God will be without power.”These angelic words of assurance to Mary can sometimes pass our ears quickly. For my own part (depending on my state of mind), they not only pass my ears with haste, they manage to leave behind an echo that always seems to ring a little trite. Yet Luke begs us not to hear them with such haste or detachment.
The first chapter of Luke presents two annunciation scenes, one to Zechariah and one to Mary. Each angelic scene bears an almost identical, four-fold structure, the message with which Gabriel greets both Mary and Zechariah perplexes each of them, and it is my hunch that Luke places these two similarly constructed annunciations next to each other at the opening of his gospel for a reason.
Both Zechariah and Mary question Gabriel; yet the question asked by each is met with—we might be tempted to say—a somewhat disproportionate response. Mary receives a word of assurance, while the angel gives Zechariah not a word, but rather takes Zechariah’s words themselves from him.
The angel of the Lord announced unto Mary;
And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord;
Be it unto me according to your word….
Thus begins the Angelus, at Morning and Evening Prayer here in this chapel. Most of the year–we do something different in Eastertide. The Angelus is based on the passage from Luke that we’ve just heard. With the addition, the important addition, of John 1:14. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word who was with God in the beginning, who was God; the Word through whom all things came to be. The Word, the Logos, of God became human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. The Incarnation. The Angelus is in part a salute to the Virgin Mary and a request for her prayers. It is also a proclamation of the Incarnation and, in the concluding prayer, a concise summary of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ. A good way to start the day.