The Annunciation

The Annunciation

The feast of the Annunciation surprised me this year. Following the Lenten Liturgies rather than dates of feasts, this feast of the Annunciation seemed to be out of season when it appeared in the Ordo for the week. However, when I reflected on this I was struck by how appropriate it was falling just before Holy Week begins. It seems to compress and encapsulate and put in right sequence the whole Redemption Story. In a span of a few weeks we will celebrate the beginning and end of God’s extraordinary intervention, in the mess we humans are making of his loving plan for our eternal happiness with him.

The Annunciation is the first of the joyful mysteries in Mary’s life. Her initial shock and apprehension would be quickly dispelled by the Angel’s words of reassurance and the answer to her question “How can this be...?” How much time did she take for reflection, we wonder, before answering “Let it be done unto me according to your word?”

We can only imagine how she experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit or the power of the Most High overshadowing her or the conception of the child Jesus in her womb. Did it happen in the presence of the Angel or after he had left? We cannot know, but it is good to ponder on the events.

My sense is that she remained alone when the Angel departed and was filled and radiant with an unspeakable joy and peace. I imagine that this is how her parents found her. They would be aware by looking at her that something tremendously important had transpired. Did they find Mary’s story hard to comprehend? Most likely, but the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy must have provided them with a possible way forward. If Elizabeth was indeed pregnant then perhaps Mary was not mistaken about the Angels message.

The actual birth of Jesus, in a stable, must have been a traumatic time for Mary and Joseph followed as it was by the flight from Herod’s soldiers, into Egypt but this period was also interlaced with assurances and affirmation: the sound of singing angels, the visit of the shepherds with the news from the angels that Mary treasured in her heart, the visit of the Magi with their gifts and the recognition of Jesus as the ‘Christ of the Lord’ by Simeon and Anna.
There is a sense of relief and delight at the thought that once they arrived back in Nazareth Mary had almost thirty years to enjoy and to be, just the Mother of Jesus. We hear of one other traumatic incident when Jesus, at the age of twelve was lost for three days and his enigmatic response to Mary’s question as to why he had caused them so much worry, “Did you not know that I must be in the house of my Father.”

After this incident we hear nothing further until Jesus is about thirty years of age. We presume that in the plan of the Father, these hidden years with Mary and Joseph were a deeply formative preparation for his public life.
We can only speculate about this period. Jesus was known as the Carpenters Son. Probably, he spent a lot of time with Joseph learning his trade. As he grew from childhood into manhood, did the family have access to the Jewish Scriptures? Did they know the Torah by heart? At what point did his parents talk to him about the circumstances of his birth. We presume at some point Joseph died since we hear nothing of him in the public life of Jesus. At what point did Jesus become aware of the role of John the Baptist? We have been given no answers to these questions but pondering them in the light of his short public life we sense that these years were richly important for his human development and preparation for what was to come.

The emergence of John the Baptist seemed to be the signal for Jesus that that his time was approaching. His baptism by John and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him seemed to be the turning point in his life. Was it at this event that Jesus took on the burden of our world’s sinfulness and became truly like one of us, subject to temptation by the evil one?

The Marriage feast at Cana gives us an interesting perspective on the relationship between Jesus and Mary in this public phase of his life. She notices the wine is running out. She knows too that Jesus has as yet unused miraculous power. She understands his uncertainty and reluctance but she realises before he does that this situation is the right time for him to exercise his power. She firmly encourages him to act and instructs the waiters to “do whatever he tells you.”

Thus Mary launches Jesus into the Ministry which will end with intolerable suffering and horrific death. As she stood beside him, to the bitter end, at the foot of the Cross, did she recall that moment with the Angel Gabriel when she said “Let it be done unto me according to your word?” Perhaps, but then she could have had no conception of what that ‘Yes’ involved for her Son and for herself. At this time she knows and perhaps, this time her anguished response is “Let it be done unto us according to your will.”

Happily there is a glorious ending. According to the Gospels Mary did not witness the Resurrection of Jesus. She did not need to. Tradition holds that Jesus appeared first to his Mother. It seems impossible to imagine anything otherwise. What an intense and glorious meeting that must have been. “It is accomplished.” they both may have joyfully proclaimed.

She did witness her son's Ascension to Heaven and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and disciples but her work was not quite finished. Though longing to be with her son she remained on earth to nurture and support the developing Church. Only she could have revealed to the Evangelists the details of her son’s conception and birth.

We have no record of her death and Assumption into Heaven but we are aware of her ongoing care and support of the Church Christ her Son founded, as his ongoing presence among us.

 We praise and thank God Father, Son, and Spirit for this great act of atonement and Mary’s great ‘Fiat’

“Let it be done to me according to your word.”

 image from Signs, Symbols  & Saints
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