Today is the Feast of the Annunciation.
What is it about the Annunciation that is so captivating? Here’s a meditation on how the story of Gabriel’s visit to Mary can help us in our own relationship with God.
The Annunciation depicts the dramatic entrance of the divine into our everyday world: God greets a young girl in her simple home in a small town. It also highlights the special role of women in the divine plan: Mary accomplishes something that certainly no man could do. Mary is someone whom many believers hope to emulate: humble, obedient, loving, trusting.
But I think that the Annunciation draws me for a different reason. For it seemed that in this gospel story Mary wonderfully exemplifies the role of the real-life believer.
To begin with, the initiative lies with God. It is God, through the angel Gabriel, who begins the dialogue with Mary. (“Hail, full of grace!”) As it is in our own lives. God begins the conversation. God speaks to us, and—as with Mary—often in unexpected ways.
When Mary first experiences the presence of God, she is fearful or “perplexed,” as some translations would have it. How often this happens to us! Often we feel unworthy before the evidence of God’s love, since the presence of the divine illuminates our own humanity and finitude.
At the Annunciation God understands Mary’s reactions as well. So, says Gabriel, “Fear not.”
Significantly, the angel now offers Mary an explanation, more detail, about what God is asking of her. (The word angel, by the way, is taken from the Greek angelos and simply means messenger.) “You have found favor with God,” says Gabriel, “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son…”
Again, how similar to experiences in our own lives. As we reflect on our experience with God, it gradually becomes clearer what God is asking us to do.
Then, in Luke’s telling, Mary questions. “How can this be,” asked the practical Mary to God’s messenger, “since I am a virgin?”
This is the facet of the story that is most familiar to us: Who hasn’t questioned the will of God in their lives? Who, when confronted with dramatic change hasn’t questioned God’s plan? Who hasn’t said to God, “How can this be?” Who hasn’t said, “Why me?”
Gabriel responds in the way that God often responds to us. After explaining to Mary that the “Holy Spirit will overshadow you” (which on top of everything else was undoubtedly confusing) the angel reminds Mary to look for signs of God’s promise fulfilled in her life. In other words, to consider the experience in her life and in others: “Know that your kinswoman Elizabeth is in her sixth month,” he says. “She, who was once thought to be barren, is now with child. For nothing is impossible with God.”
In other words, look around you. Look at what God can do, and has done in your life already.
And when Mary reflects on what she sees around her, on her own experience and knowledge of what has happened to Elizabeth, she is finally able to say yes to this strange request by God: “Let it be done to me according to your will!”
Mary does this in perfect freedom. As do we.
With her yes, with her fiat, her “let it be,” Mary partners herself with the Almighty and is empowered to bring Christ into the world.
With our own yes to God’s voice in our lives we are also asked to nurture the word of God within us and bring Christ into the world—certainly not in the same way that Mary was, but in our own situations. Using our own talents and graces we are called to bring Christ into the lives of others.
~ James Martin, S.J.