Here I am, the servant of the Lord
The Church’s celebration of the Annunciation is believed to date to the early 5th century, possibly finding its origins around the Council of Ephesus (c 431). Earlier names for the Feast were Festum Incarnationis, and Conceptio Christi. In the Eastern Churches, the Annunciation is a feast of Christ, and in the Latin Church, even though the focus has been more on Mary, it is still called the Annunciation of the Lord. The Annunciation has always been celebrated on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas Day. Some ancient Christian writers believed that God created the world on March 25, and that the fall of Adam and the Crucifixion also took place March 25. The secular calendar was changed to begin the year on January 1.
When we reflect on the Annunciation to Mary, and her acceptance of the angel’s message, we also reflect on our own vocation – our own calling from God. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – an echo of Mary’s “Be it done unto me according to your word.” Each time we commit ourselves to embracing God’s call and accepting his will, we mark a new point on the path of our relationship with Him. For the rest of her life, Mary pondered her extraordinary encounter with God, turning the weight of the angel’s message over and over again in her heart. From the manger to the Cross, Mary’s life was radically changed – her relationship with God profoundly deepened – the moment she said, “Yes.”
The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner
Mary of Nazareth is rooted in the faith of her ancestors, and yet now an angel has appeared in the midst of everyday life, extending a startling invitation. “You have found favour with God,” the angel says, “and you will conceive and bear his Son.” She received and welcomed God’s Word in the fullest sense – becoming impregnated with it and bearing it to the world.
Imagine yourself in Mary’s place, asked to say “yes” to a divine plan so vast, so profound, and so seemingly impossible that you cannot comprehend it. “How can this be?” she asks, bewildered. Will we accept God’s love and gift of new life and bring it joyously to those around us? Will we trust in his providence, even when we can’t see the path ahead? Amid the noise of everyday life, will we listen for and embrace his call?
Standing in the middle of the present-day city of Nazareth in Galilee is the mammoth basilica of the Annunciation, built around what is believed to be the cave and dwelling of Mary. This cave commemorates the place where Mary received the message from the angel Gabriel that she would “conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:31). A small inscription is found on the altar in this grotto-like room at the heart of the basilica. The Latin inscription reads: Verbum caro hic factum est
(Here the word became flesh). That inscription in the grotto of the Annunciation is profound, otherworldly, earth-shaking, life-changing, dizzying, and awesome.
The words “Verbum caro hic factum est
” are not found on an ex-voto plaque in the cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem nor engraved on the outer walls of the Temple ruins or on governmental tourist offices in Jerusalem. They are affixed to an altar deep within the imposing structure of Nazareth’s centrepiece of the Annunciation. “This is where the word became flesh.” This is where history was changed because Mary said “yes.”
It is Mary above all others who can teach us what it means to live by faith and how to respond when God’s providence disrupts the daily course of our lives, overturning its rhythms and expectations. Who better than Mary can walk with us and strengthen us on life’s journey? Who better than this faithful disciple who endured the poverty of Bethlehem, the squalor of a stable, the experience of being a refugee, can show us how to cling to God when all seems to be lost? This faithful Daughter of Zion hoped beyond all hope and longed for the day when “the rich will be sent away with empty hands” and “the poor will have all good things” (Luke 1:53).
Even Mary was troubled by the angel’s revelation that she would bear God’s son. Mary’s raw faith is a living witness to the radical, unpredictable, and ultimate triumph of the Good News of her Son, Jesus Christ. Despite her fears and uncertainty over how this promise could be fulfilled, she still answered, “Yes.”
Are we able to respond to God this way? What prevents me from wholeheartedly accepting God’s call? What fears stand in the way? What prevents me from hearing God’s call? Do I purposefully use noise to avoid his voice? Am I uncomfortable with silence?