March 25, 2017
Announcements come in many forms. I recall with some measure of fondness the morning announcements over the intercom in the public schools I attended. There are announcements we receive by mail, email or Facebook proclaiming significant moments in life such as a birth, a wedding or a graduation. Today’s celebration marks the greeting of the angel Gabriel to Mary announcing a birth that is yet to come. If you do the math you realize that Christmas is nine months from now.
We have here the beginning of a succession of characters in Luke’s rogues gallery of people with little or no status in the culture, such as women, and in this case most likely a young teenager, being called upon to do great things with God. Even Nazareth was a tiny out-of-the- way town of no more than one hundred fifty people. So I wonder. To how many young women did Gabriel go before a yes came back in reply? Could we have had the Blessed Virgin Rachel, or Zipporah, or Hannah?
One might argue that the biblical text in Luke does not indicate Mary had a whole lot of choice in the matter: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son.” Yet we also learn that she was “troubled” by such a greeting, indicating some sort of internal wrestling. Well, yes! I find this to be one of the great understatements in all of scripture. Of course she was troubled, even disturbed and overwhelmed I would think. This is no ordinary day in one’s life. Then being told not to be afraid, which means of course there was indeed something of which to be afraid, she does give her assent: “Let it be to me according to your word.”
It is that assent of Mary which has prompted many to say that she is the model believer as she accepted her vocation as the God-bearer, “theotokos” in Eastern Orthodoxy, with perfect conformity of will. I do not want to overly romanticize Mary’s “yes,” however. In dialogue with the Annunciation event, I want to push back a bit and ask if we have here a conflated chronology. I guess it is my own humanity which wants to believe that Mary’s troubled pondering lasted more than the seconds it takes to read of it. Discernment of God’s call on one’s life, especially when it is transformative and involves a complete redirection, takes time in prayer that comes out of a deep grounding and preparation. It reminds me of other’s acts of obedience in the biblical witness such as of Abraham. In modern times we think of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Whatever the process of discernment that occurred, the theological point is made. Through the angel Gabriel, God announced a call to faithfulness and Mary said yes. Her wonderfully grace-filled response to God is beautiful and the Church has admired her for it throughout the centuries since: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” Know too that you are full of grace and out of that deep embrace of God may you find the will to say yes to the angel as close to you as your own breath.