25th MARCH 2022

Annunciation by John Donne | Malcolm Guite



Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord


Is 7:10-14;8:10;         Ps 40:7-11;     Heb 10:4-10; Lk 1:26-38



“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you” – the feast we celebrate today gets its name from this greeting of Archangel Gabriel to Mary. There is an unthinkable and unimaginable project of God on the one side, and on the other, there is in theworld a humble girl whose ‘yes’ was highly expected. The solemnity commemorates a highpoint in the history of salvation: the entrance of God as man into our human family. And how does it happen? As we read in the first reading, Isaiah prophesied it 700 years before the birth of Christ. God was preparing to send his son from eternity. Did Isaiah know how his words about the Messiah would come true? Most probably not. And when it actually did come to pass, was there any fanfare? No.

In the gospel according to Luke, the annunciation stories of John the Baptist and Jesus run parallel and are often intertwined. But there are also stark differences. In the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah, the angel Gabriel went to the temple of Jerusalem. In the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Mary, the angel Gabriel goes to an ordinary house in a town of Galilee called Nazareth, which was considered a pagan territory and even neglected by God. That is why Nathaniel said of it, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Also, the chief priests ridiculed Nicodemus, “Do you too, come from Galilee? Look it up and see for yourself that no prophet is to come from Galilee” (Jn 7:52).

In the Old Testament, the temple was a privileged place where God dwelt. With the incarnation, Jesus humbles himself and becomes one like us in everything, except sin (cf. Heb 4:15). We are reminded that God does not dwell only in holy places, but everywhere. He is our companion. He is part of our daily life. He is truly “God with us.” And Mary becomes the living temple, for he is also “God within us.”

We move on to the dialogue between the angel Gabriel and Mary. St Bernard of Clairvaux writes that when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she had been chosen to be the mother of God, it was as though the angels in heaven held their breath waiting for her reply. So much depended on her response. She was free. There was no pressure. She could have said, “no.” Let us consider this scene from the perspective of the angels. They had witnessed the first woman, Eve, betray God by partaking in a sin that devastated humankind. But now this act of disobedience is about to be reversed. In the Garden of Eden, Eve was motivated by pride, whereas Mary is motivated by humility; Eve by love of self, Mary by love of God. Eve, in a desperate act of pride, blindly obeys a serpent; Mary, in her humility, has the vision to obey God.

Mary continued to say “yes” all through her life, even in the difficult moments beside the cross where her son was crucified. At the moment of the Annunciation, the Angel offered her some explanation. We are told that after the positive response of Mary, he “departed from her.” No angel would be there to explain to her all the mysterious happenings in her life henceforth. She continued her journey in the darkness of faith. How would we act? Sometimes God may give us some light, but at other times, we just have to trust him and his plans for us without any proper understanding.

Let us further analyze the response of Mary. The expression “let it be done to me…” in the original Greek text is in the optative mood, which entails an ardent desire, earnest enthusiasm, almost a restlessness to witness its accomplishment. She refers to herself as a ‘handmaid’, a servant. A handmaid or a servant is someone whose essential function is to assist, not to take charge of. We often want to be in total control. We do not want to play second fiddle. Of course, sometimes God wants us to be his right hand, but we wish to be the masters! And we can say that Jesus as a man himself learnt this lesson of humility and obedience from his mother. In the second reading, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, places these words on the lips of Jesus: “Behold, I have come to do your will.” Will we follow their examples?

Response: See, I have come, Lord, to do your will.

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