Annunciation of the Lord March 25, 2012

Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10d; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38

The Feast of the Annunciation commemorates the great day when God entered the world through the incarnation. The Gospel records Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would conceive Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  This feast is one of the most important feasts in the Church’s liturgical calendar. It celebrates the actual Incarnation of Our Savior the Word made flesh in the womb of His mother, Mary.  Luke describes the annunciation made by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she was to become the mother of the Son of God. The Gospel records the “angelic salutation” of Gabriel to Mary, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”  We have Mary’s response to God, though uncertain at the initial stage, accepts the divine will and says: “Let your will be done in me.”   The Church’s celebration of the Annunciation is believed to date to the early 5th century, possibly originating at about the time of the Council of Ephesus in the year 431. The Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary dates back to at least the 6th century, and is mentioned between AD 530 and 533 in a sermon by Abraham of Ephesus. In the West, the first authentic reference is found in the 7th century.  The Annunciation has always been celebrated on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas Day.  This feast generally considered on par with Christmas as it narrates God’s entry into the world as a human person. From one point of view, it is a greater occasion than Christmas because this is the moment when the Word became flesh and chose to live among us.

The Bible tells us that for centuries prior to the birth of Christ, God’s chosen people had been waiting for the promised Messiah. In today’s First Reading, we have the words of Prophet Isaiah about the birth of a child.  Isaiah the Prophet speaks to the king in the name of Yahweh saying that he must ask for a sign from the Lord.  King Ahaz is afraid and he refuses to ask for the sign as he has already sacrificed his son to the pagan god Moloch.  Now when Assyria was ready to attack Israel he had made a pact with Syria their enemy.  He was in a desperate situation to decide as it would cost the independence of Israel.  Precisely at this juncture, when the king has vital resources in his mind, God sends Isaiah to awaken the king to another more vital resource, namely, faith in God.   If the king chooses to walk with God, he would have nothing to fear.  To convince the king of God’s power Isaiah offers to grant him any sign he chooses.  Ahaz now refuses to ask for a sign from God about the protection of Israel. But God on the other hand will not leave Israel to be destroyed. Hence the Prophet says that even though he did not ask for a sign due to his lack of faith, God will give him one. A young woman will conceive and bear a son and he will have a son who will be the save Israel from their enemies. He will be the Emmanuel. Ahaz has a son Hezekiah who was one of few good kings Israel had in those days and in him Judah experienced the renewal of God’s promise to King David.

These words fulfill what we heard in the second reading of today.  The tenth chapter from the letter to the Hebrews places before us a contrast between the Old and the New Covenant. The passage speaks of the ineffectiveness of offerings of animals for bringing reconciliation with God. It is the offering by Jesus of his own self totally to his Father which alone is effective.  The Old Testament witnessed the offering of the sacrifice of animals and the blood of the victim sprinkled was the sign of forgiveness and reconciliation.  The New Testament shows how Obedience is more important than the sacrifice of the victims.  Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you have prepared for me.  And the son said, here I am ready to do your will. The son volunteers to sacrifice himself for the sake of the humanity.   These words express the readiness and willingness of the Son to do all that had been ordained and prophesied unto the making of a full satisfaction to God and the salvation of His people.   Christ in the doing of God’s will was not merely performing that which was laid upon Him due to God’s counsel, but also that He desired to actively perform the work which had been allotted to Him.  By his obedience he takes away the external sacrifice of the victims and replaces it with his own sacrifice of body and blood which he fulfils on Calvary. In these words we have the perfect obedience of Christ placed in direct contrast from the whole of the Old Testament offering.  This unique sacrifice is above all and by this Christ willingly offered up by Him, for our sake.  In reality, we have been sanctified by the obedience of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel is the account of the Annunciation from Luke. As the angel comes into the little house at Nazareth, he greets Mary. “Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you”. The older translation with which we are familiar in the prayer is, “Hail, Mary, full of grace.” It is this term, ‘full of grace’ which led theologians to asserting that Mary, not only at the moment of Jesus’ conception, but at every moment of her existence was totally free from any kind of sin. From these words, the angel Gabriel was expressing that the Blessed Virgin Mary enjoyed a unique state of grace that far surpassed the creation of all men and the angels. Her soul, spirit and body were immaculate because of her immaculate conception. Not only was the Blessed Virgin Mary immaculate in her conception, but she remained faithful and immaculate to God to the end of her earthly life.  When Angel Gabriel appears to Mary without warning or preparation, he simply proclaims to he what is going to happen.  The message he gave was very clear but the way it would take place was not at all clear.  She would become pregnant and have a child of the line of David who will be called Messiah was indeed a privilege.  The young girl is not able to comprehend the mystery.  When the Angel solved the problem concerning her virginity, she humbly accepted the role that God had planned for her.  This is a miracle as she would gather as the Holy Spirit would over shadow him and she would be with child. The Angel tells her how God has come in the life of Elizabeth and he can do anything without any hindrance. Nothing is impossible for God and Mary accepts his word and says God your will be done and the Incarnation took place.  The Son of God began his human life in the chaste womb of the virgin.  Luke tells us again and again that Mary was a virgin, indicating that she was chaste, unmarried and a person who dedicated her life for God. The Almighty chooses her to be the mother of his only begotten Son who will be coming to the world to bring salvation. We also see the Trinity at work.  The angel tells Mary that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and bring God into the universe and she will be the person instrumental in bringing the salvation to human kind.

Luke in his gospel tells us that Mary was already betrothed to a man called Joseph. This means that she is committed to be his wife but they have not come together or had conjugal relations. The angel greets her and calls her a person full of grace.  He tells her that she will be the mother of God’s son who is no ordinary son. The angel describes him in extraordinary language which, in fact, recalls many passages from the Hebrew Testament referring to the Messiah.  He is to be called Son of the Most High, a title which can mean the divine Son of God or the Messiah. The indications that this Son is the Messiah are indicated by the angel saying that he of the royal lineage.  Mary was more puzzled and disturbed with. To remove Mary’s anxiety and to assure her that her virginity would be preserved, the angel Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High shall overshadow her. To further support the birth of the Child, the angel informed Mary that her cousin Elizabeth who was of old age, she was presently pregnant and she also would have a child.  In response to the angel’s Annunciation, Mary gave her consent by saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, and be it done to me according to thy word.” From the moment of conception the child to be born is fully God and fully a human person.

It is doubtful if Mary really understood the implications of what she had been told. But she recognized the messenger as coming from God and, in deep faith and trust, accepted what she was being asked to do and what she should be. Later on, when Mary is praised by woman in a crowd for having produced such a wonderful son as Jesus, Jesus replied, Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it. And here is Mary’s true greatness, not so much that she was chosen to be the Mother of God but that she responded with such generosity. And, right up to the very end, she would stand by her Son.

The heart of the narrative is Gabriel’s explanation of how this is to happen and who this child is and how God himself is involved through the Holy Spirit in the birth of the King. At the end of the narrative our attention is drawn to two important points.  The first comes from the final words of the Angel to Mary that nothing will be impossible for God.  So far what the Angel had said seemed truly impossible to Mary. God is always beyond all human reason and understanding.  The second point is that Mary accepts Gabriel’s message through faith and not because of reason and understanding.  Because of this she is for us a magnificent model of faith.  Because of the role she plays in God’ Through Mary at the moment of the Annunciation, Jesus entered the world in His human nature. Through Mary, He became a member of the human race. Through Mary, Jesus was given to the world for the salvation of mankind.  Through Mary, an Immaculate Virgin, Jesus received His human form to become the perfect sacrifice and sin offering according to the Divine will of God the Father. Through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus came an end to the imperfect sacrifices and sin offerings of bulls and goats. For these, offered according to the law, were imperfect in nature.

In summary, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord reminds us to commemorate the moment when the Word of God the Father took human nature upon Himself. We are also called to remember that although Jesus has resurrected and is sitting at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, He remains present with us in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, in the Living Word and in the Holy Tabernacles. There He continuously longs for the moments when all the faithful will manifest their love for Him by assembling before Him in His cherished Temple on earth. He is our saving Lord, our God, has come and remains with us. Of His Kingdom, there will be no end. “Let us never forget Him!” the feast tells us that this episode of the Annunciation has not been an easy task. God who is capable of doing anything in the world and nothing is impossible to him finds himself at the hands of the little girl awaiting her consent in the work of Redemption. She could have said no to God and the angel.  But he accepts the task and the dignity of becoming the mother of God. Today she gives us the lesson of freedom and at the same time the difficulty of deciding in freedom for God and accepting his will in our life.  As we celebrate the Eucharist we ask God to give us that freedom to accept all things truly and willingly and be at the service of God.

One night a man came to our house and told me, “There is a family with eight children. They have not eaten for days,” I took some food and I went. When I finally came to the family, I saw the faces of those little children disfigured by hunger. There was no sorrow or sadness in their faces, just the deep pain of hunger. I gave the rice to the mother. She divided it in two, and went out, carrying half the rice with her. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go?” She gave me this simple answer, “To my neighbours-they are hungry also.” I was not surprised that she gave–because poor people are generous. But I was surprised that she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves we have no time for others.

Fr Eugene Lobo S.J. Rome

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