24 Mar 2015

March 25th - The Annunciation

The Annunciation
by D. Werburg Welch
(Source: iBenedictines)
"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." 

And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" And the angel said to her, "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, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

Today we mark the beginning of time, the new creation, a kairos moment. We mark the day when all the universe paused and waited with bated breath for the response of a simple young woman; who was asked to undertake a unique motherhood, to be God-bearer, Theotokas, and through the Cross mother of us all.

The divine messenger, standing in her simple home, bowing down to ask would she consent to God's will. The Divine humbling itself to the human, lowering itself down to the level of the created for to be able to ultimately divinise the dust of the earth. To walk with us, among us, as one of us through this "vale of tears". The fact that God-made-Man, entered into our existence, entered into our human history, experienced our pains, our joys, our needs, “like us in all things except sin,”is the ultimate hope given to us. The in-breaking of God into human history enables us to share in the ultimate love between the persons of the Godhead expressed as the Holy Spirit. Because Christ has taken on our frail human nature, we are able to participate in, no rather are part of, the Divine Eros, the Divine Love epitomised by the sending of that Spirit of Love on the first Pentecost, the manifestation of love on the world. No longer are we just made in the image and likeness of God, through His sharing in our humanity we share ultimately in his divinity.

Where do we stand in that room at the Annunciation? 

Are we the messenger? Are we the ones who can go to another and remind ourselves because of Mary's "Yes" that we are all indeed "full of grace"? The grace of being children of God, co-heirs with Christ, made in the image of the Divine Light? Do we provide that moment of reflection where we remind each other, God has a special plan for you too? 

Often we are asked to focus on Miriam, Mary, Maria. Her 'fiat' given to us as exemplar and example. Virgin Madonna, Holy inviolate Mother, Ark of the Covenant, Tower of David, Gate of Ivory. But have we wrapped the woman-child in too many layers of mystical pastiche? Where is the trembling, frightened, awe struck young lady who makes the ultimate sacrifice? But what if she has said "No!"?

The birth of the child was a divine manifestation but in a very human world. “In human terms, in paschal terms – [from the Greek verb pascho with its root word in strickeness and suffering] – the story of Jesus begins with a terrified teenager birthing onto a futon of straw in a rock cavity amid the incense of the breath of livestock. It begins in a Taliban territory, a sectarian state that murders single mothers by stoning them. It begins badly and ends worse – in the public execution of her child as a condemned criminal in a rubbish dump outside the city walls.”

In very human terms, still very much happening today, frightened young girls and women are giving birth in conditions not much better and often worse, relying on the divine grace of their human female nature – often so defiled and abused by the societies that they are in - to bring to climax the process of creation which they have participated in either willingly or unwillingly. Like that young Jewish girl giving birth without the benefit of midwives they too often “experience an unescorted birth; labour without amenity…there are no women present” .

But even before the messiness, the pain and suffering of birth in a dark cave where a mother, in her ultimate gift to the world, in bringing new life into that ungrateful world, prefigures the blood and pain of Calvary, she had suffered for her willingness to be open to the message of God.

She suffered from staring eyes and whispers behind her back which forced her to the shelter of her cousin Elizabeth to the consolation of another woman in the same predicament as she. Small consolation to her, but surely it offers hope to any woman in the situation of an unexpected pregnancy and worried about “what the neighbours may say”.

She suffered in the uncertainty as to whether her fiancée would stand by her in what in human terms he could have seen as being an ultimate betrayal. We can say that “Joseph was a very decent man. He didn’t want to give his girlfriend a bad reputation and after a reassuring dream he married her. But was it a happy life?”

She suffered “when Jesus was twelve they lost him in the crowd and when they found him, after three days of anxiously looking, their question: “Why did you do this to us?” was answered with something close to a reproach: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house”(Luke 2:49)? This response, “But didn’t you know I have more important things to do than pay attention to you,” is hardly consoling” to Mary and Joseph but must give hope to any parents of angst-ridden teenagers.

Take and eat…take and drink….we eat of his body, broken on the Cross, birthed in pain and suffering in a dark cave. We drink of his blood poured out for us, but as blood and water flowed from his side, so too it poured forth at this birth, prefiguring the sacrifice to be made on Calvary. Simeon’s prophecy to Mary was that she would experience suffering too for having brought this child into the world, but what mother does not experience suffering from the moment of birth as her child grows further and further away from her into their own person and ultimately journeys back to the God that made them?

“When Jesus hands over his body to the disciples he is vulnerable. He is in their hands for them to do as they wish...It embodies a tenderness that means that one may well get hurt. It is a self gift that may be met with rebuff and mockery and in which one may feel oneself to be used. The Last Supper shows us with extreme realism the perils of giving ourselves to anyone…The Last Supper is the story of the risk of giving yourself to others. That is why Jesus died, because he loved. But not to take the risk is even more dangerous. It is deadly…Love is the only impetus that is sufficiently overwhelming to force us to leave the comfortable shelter of our well-armed individuality, shed the impregnable shell of self-sufficiency, and crawl nakedly into the danger zone beyond, the melting pot where individuality is purified into personhood.” 

Mary too, as a mother, handed over her body to the world so that the world could receive the Divine Love into its midst and then suffered again as the world rejected that Divine Love by impaling it on a cross.



Let it be the middle of nowhere,

at the heart of nothing but wheat fields.
Let there be farmers swinging their arms,
broadcasting seed.

Let us see the terrible boredom of oxen
and small-town girls. Let there be one girl
grinding grain in her father’s house,
her face bland with inexperience,
her heart expectant of little
but marriage, customarily arranged.

Into this everyday, female life,

let there enter a messenger,
praising her and telling wild stories
about God inside her body.

Let the message flourish in the girl,

and make of her a prophet, capable of seeing
beyond the milky tenderness
of her promised pregnancy and motherhood,
to her son’s ironic kingdom.
Let her envision him befriending prostitutes
and children,
enraging priests and governors,
dying between thieves.

Let the girl be wise and curious.

Let her ask, how can this be?
When the messenger is overwhelmed
by beauty,
and he can tell her only
that the shadow of the holy will fall
across her life,
let her receive
the God of fearsome possibilities.
Let her conceive the Christ.

Rachel Srubas (Source)

The Annunciation
By Denise Levertov

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
       Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
       The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
         God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.


Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
         Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
More often
those moments
      when roads of light and storm
      open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
                                 God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.


She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
  only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
                     Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–

but who was God.
This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,


She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
                                                       raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
                                  consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
                               and the iridescent wings.
              courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.


Other reflections:

Salt + Light - Because Mary said “Yes…” — A Reflection for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord
Phil over at Ennis Blue
America - The Annunciation and You
Pope Benedict XVI reflecting on the Annunciation Advent 2012 - “The Annunciation wouldn’t have made today's headlines”
iBenedictines reflections- 20112012
OCA - The Annunciation: Announcing the Incarnation
Totus2us - The Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary

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