2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: The Annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28He went in and said to her, “Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” 29She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, 30but the angel said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. 31Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; 33he will rule over the House of Jacob forever and his reign will have no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?” 35“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” the angel answered, “and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. 36Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, 37for nothing is impossible to God.” 38“I am the handmaid of the Lord,” said Mary, “let what you have said be done to me.” And the angel left her.
2. 1- Explanation
We are in the town of Nazareth, in the region of Galilee, not in Jerusalem nor in the Temple. We know well that we cannot compare the marginalization of Galilee with the religious importance of Jerusalem. We are meeting a person of simple social status: a virgin who is betrothed; we are not meeting a priest employed in offering incense in the Temple, like Zachariah. For the Incarnation, God has chosen the weakest of human beings (a woman), a marginalized location (Galilee), and modest social status: all of this indicates a predilection on God’s part, love for the humble and the poor.
Verse 1:28: “Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” The greeting of the Angel to Mary helps us to understand that she is filled with the blessings and grace of God. The angel spontaneously reassures her and says that God will protect and support her in a free act of grace. He tells her that she is to bear a child who will be the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. The Annunciation is Christological, announcing the birth of the redeeming Messiah into our world.
Verse 1:34: “But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?” Mary’s question is rational since she is officially betrothed to Joseph, but the marriage has not yet been consummated. How could she conceive a child without lying with a man? Her question points to the impossibility, humanly speaking, of such a thing happening, without a miraculous intervention from God. The angel tells her that the power of the Most High will overshadow her, just as God’s glory overshadowed the dwellings of His people in the Exodus with Moses (Ex 40:35). Mary will conceive by the Holy Spirit and the Child to be born will be called the Son of God.
It was not easy for a young Jewish girl to defy social traditions. A betrothed girl who was pregnant was considered an adulteress, deserving of being stoned to death. God, in His glory, did not deny her freedom, nor deprive her of her free will. Her answer – I am the handmaid of the Lord – (v 1) was a free expression of her total and unconditional willingness to take on this venture. Her past experience in her life of faith had taught her obedience to God’s will and commandments, despite the mystery that shrouded her future. Her ‘Yes’, her ‘Fiat’, was the beginning of the blessings to be showered upon humanity. In that moment, began the unity between the divine and the human. Jesus became incarnate in the womb of Mary: redemption was in the making. By her reaction, Mary was an expression of the faithful ‘remnant’ of the Jewish people, one who listened closely to God’s precepts and who acted according to them in her life.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
The Annunciation teaches us humility, for God loves the humble and comes to their rescue. God wants us to trust His Word, which touches the deepest places in our hearts and fills them with love, granting us peace and warmth not to be found anywhere else. Like Mary, in discovering in our inner selves the call of God, in meditating upon the Holy Scriptures, in prayer, we can come to know today the will of God and hear His voice through the Bible, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Each one of us can change the course of human history when we express obedience to the will of God. Each one of us is like Mary: the Holy Spirit comes upon us in baptism and we are able to become holy if that is our desire. Baptism does not deprive us of our freedom, but grants us redemption and holiness when we pursue a life of repentance and obedience to God’s precepts.
Let us then take Mary as our real “Heavenly Mother”. Let us love her as her real sons and daughters. Let us follow her command at the Wedding of Cana in Galilee: “Do whatever he tells you!” (Jn 2:5). St Bernard proclaimed: “Never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided.”