We are so used to saying the Angelus and reciting the Mysteries of the Rosary, that we hardly realize the awesome event that was heralded by the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, a young Galilean woman. In today’s gospel, Luke 1:26-38, Mary hears the heavenly visitor’s words: ”Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” She is confused – troubled, even. What could this mean? After all, she is an ordinary, devout Jewess, knowledgeable about the ways in which heavenly angels deliver messages of great importance to humans, but doubting her own worthiness to receive such a visitor.
Luke tells us that six months before the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary, he had appeared to the priest Zechariah with a message from God that his prayers for a son had been heard and his wife Elizabeth, although old, was now pregnant. Zechariah was troubled. In his scepticism, he asked for proof: “How can I be sure of this?”
Mary, on the contrary, although troubled also by a visit from God’s messenger, did not ask for proof but rather, how the angel’s words would be realized. Gabriel told her that she would conceive the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit and that her relative, Elizabeth (Zechariah’s wife), had conceived a son in her old age, and despite having been considered barren, was now six months pregnant, “for God’s promises can never fail.”
Mary responded with the words that have resonated in the Angelus down through the centuries, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.”
Her use of the word ‘handmaid,’ is charged with Old Testament spirituality. Yahweh is the Sovereign Monarch who created everything and who directs His creation according to His pleasure. The servants of Yahweh, the handmaids, are pious Israelite women who, not only accept God’s sovereignty, but place themselves at God’s disposal. Mary’s declaration is in this tradition, affirming her complete dependence on God’s pleasure; confirmed in the words; “Be it done unto me according to Your word.”
Her ‘Fiat” shows us the way! Like Mary, we, too, can offer ourselves totally to God, in the belief that He knows what is best for us. Her surrender to God’s will is an act of love-in-faith: making a way for God to become human in her body while embracing a future of uncertainty, believing that God’s plan would be revealed with the passage of time and that she was indeed, blessed.
The Annunciation, celebrated as a Solemn Feastday in the Church’s liturgical year on the 25th March, marks the actual incarnation of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. It is good to be reminded about this awesome event, less than a week before Christmas.
Sr. Maeve Mc Mahon O.P.