Perhaps you’re like me — I just love Christmas and though the liturgical calendar moves on as it must, I’m always sad to see it go. Like the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge, I try to hang on to it for as long as I can — the birth of the humble baby, told to the astonished shepherds by angels — not just ordinary angels, mind you, but herald angels — messengers charged to announce things from on high, with a big, celestial noise.
That’s what the word “annunciation” is all about. It’s the big announcement, and not about the latest deal on Amazon with free shipping, but about something bigger than our imaginings – information dropped from heaven to earth, for our good. For our delight. For our salvation.
In March, with Christmas now feeling well-behind us, we nevertheless touch it again, for on the 25th of this month we observe the Solemnity of the Annunciation as recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke. The “announcement” is one made by the archangel Gabriel to a young woman of Nazareth — Mariam, who is full of grace. Motivated by that grace, she generously acquiesced, permitting this announcement of God’s will to change her life, and that of the entire human family, for history has been hinged upon her “fiat,” her “yes,” just as our salvation hinges upon our consent to being saved. In that, Mary has modeled for us the means of uttering a trusting “yes” even when it comes with a hint of fear, or a breath of doubt.
“Behold,” she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Mary was, no doubt, overwhelmed by all of this. I’m certain that these annunciations — both Gabriel’s and her own — had an immediate impact on her faith, her life, her relationship to her family and to Joseph. Despite all that, her holy response, simple and direct, changed the history and trajectory of humankind, and of her whole being. She became the new Eve who saved us from original sin — who helped us become the children of light once more. By the working of the Holy Spirit, God enlarged our humanity without diminishing his divinity.
In the Church of the Annunciation, built in Nazareth, over the place where this history-altering encounter occurred, the inscription on the marble altar explains the mystery: “Verbum caro hic factum est.” That is, “Right HERE, the Word became Flesh.”
In that instant of annunciation – much quieter than the angel song of Christmas — the waiting was over; the cries and hopes of God’s chosen people through centuries were fulfilled. Sacred was that child conceived in Mary’s womb, a divine Person, wrapped in our human nature. Similarly sacred is every human person from the moment of conception.
Through these combined annunciations of March and December, God gave us the greatest weapon of all in our ultimate battle against Satan. He gave us his only Son, the Word of God made flesh, and our Blessed Mother, who loves us so much, and the church that is Christ’s body. Let’s not forget that Mary has been taken up, body and soul to heaven. She literally has the ear of the One who saves.
And so, this month – today, and every day — I make this solemn announcement to you: Jesus is with us, and will be until the end of the age, as he has promised. He has fulfilled the will of his Father, gathering disciples and friends, offering us the Sacraments — preeminently his living Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist, which he commended to us on the night when he made his own “fiat” in Gethsemane. He freely suffered and died a cruel death and is risen — a reality we will celebrate soon and very soon.
O Mary, Mother of the Word Incarnate, pray for us
Bishop Robert Reed is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston, pastor of St. Patrick/Sacred Heart Parishes in Watertown and president of the CatholicTV network.