08Apr 8 April 2013. The Annunciation of the Lord

(This feast was postponed from March 25th)

Isa 7:10ff. King Ahaz refuses to ask a sign of the Lord; Isaiah promises a child to be called Immanuel.

Heb 10:4-10. Why Christ came into the world: “See, o God, I have come to do your will.”

Lk 1:26ff. The angel announces that Mary will conceive by the Holy Spirit’s power, and give birth to Jesus.

First Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And Isaiah said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanu-el. Take counsel together, but it will come to nought; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us.

Second Reading: Hebrews 10:4-10

It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, He said, “Sacrifices and offerings Thou hast not desired, but a body hast Thou prepared for Me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings Thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Lo, I have come to do Thy will, O God’, as it is written of Me in the roll of the book.” When He said above, “Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then He added, “Lo, I have come to do Thy will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Gospel: Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Divine Condescension

(a homily by Saint Leo the Great)

Lowliness is assumed by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity. To pay the debt of our sinful state, a nature that was incapable of suffering was joined to one that could suffer. Thus, in keeping with the healing that we needed, one and the same mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, was able to die in one nature, and unable to die in the other.

He who is true God was therefore born in the complete and perfect nature of a true man, whole in his own nature, whole in ours. By our nature we mean what the Creator had fashioned in us from the beginning, and took to himself in order to restore it. For in the Saviour there was no trace of what the deceiver introduced and man, being misled, allowed to enter. It does not follow that because he submitted to sharing in our human weakness he therefore shared in our sins. He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence. So he who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself.

Thus the Son of God enters this lowly world. He comes down from the throne of heaven, yet does not separate himself from the Father’s glory. He is born in a new condition, by a new birth. He was born in a new condition, for, invisible in his own nature, he became visible in ours. Beyond our grasp, he chose to come within our grasp. Existing before time began, he began to exist at a moment in time. Lord of the universe, he hid his infinite glory and took the nature of a servant. Incapable of suffering as God, he did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering. Immortal, he chose to be subject to the laws of death.

He who is true God is also true man. There is no falsehood in this unity as long as the lowliness of man and the pre-eminence of God coexist in mutual relationship. As God does not change by his condescension, so man is not swallowed up by being exalted. Each nature exercises its own activity, in communion with the other. The Word does what is proper to the Word, the flesh fulfils what is proper to the flesh. One nature is resplendent with miracles, the other falls victim to injuries. As the Word does not lose equality with the Father’s glory, so the flesh does not leave behind the nature of our race. One and the same person – this must be said over and over again – is truly the Son of God and truly the son of man. He is God in virtue of the fact that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He is man in virtue of the fact that the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

Virgin and Mother

The Church celebrates the Annunciation to Mary, and her divine pregnancy, nine months before the birth of Jesus, in order to show that his conception was nine months before his birth, in conformity with the laws of nature. Today, the Church remembers the joyful day of the conception of Christ as it was announced to Mary, the daughter of Joachim and Anne, at her home in Nazareth. This divine message to Mary was brought through an Angel, Gabriel, who spoke in the very name of God..

The Lord sent Gabriel, whose name means means Strength of God, or Power of God, charged with a message that would begin a new Covenant between God and man, a Covenant founded on the union of the divine and human in the person of Jesus Christ. Before the Annunciation, before conceiving Christ within her, Mary is a Virgin, and so she asks the question: “How shall this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lk. 1:34) Mary wants to love God above all things, and enlightened by the grace of God within her, she had chosen virginity as the way to live the most fully with God. How then can she become a mother?

The angel tells her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Lk. 1:35) This is the key sentence that allows Mary to understand, in faith, that the all-powerful love of God will accomplish in her this double action: making her the Mother of the Christ (Messiah), and yet preserving her spirit of virginity.

Speaking of the Virgin Mary and the Church, Vatican Council II summarizes the Annunciation as follows: “In the mystery of the Church,  the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother. By her belief and obedience, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, as the new Eve she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father, showing an undefiled faith, not in the word of the ancient serpent, but in that of God’s messenger.” (Lumen Gentium, no. 63)

May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary help us to believe even more strongly in the Omnipotence of God.

One Response

  1. Soline Humbert

    But just consider for a few minutes this alternative version:

    Mary is being told by the angel that she has been chosen to bring about the greatest change possible, in fact the most radical change: giving birth to the Messiah.

    No small calling. What does Mary say? “Excuse me, Angel Gabriel, but I need to ask the religious authorities for permission to say yes? You see perhaps they have other plans! And I will also need to consult Joseph….”

    And so Mary goes about consulting the scribes who laugh at her presumption and explain to her that this is totally impossible: It has never happened before, so how could it happen now? And they admonish her to dismiss those grand notions from her pretty little head.

    Mary then tries to get a meeting with the Sanhedrin and the High Priest. She is eventually informed by a contemptuous religious official that “the high priest does not meet people like her…” After all, she is a nobody, and this talk of Messiah is plainly ridiculous. Who needs a Messiah? Certainly not they. Managing very well, thank you. We have a good system in place. A messiah would only create more complications and upset.

    So Mary is kept waiting.

    No, she can’t tell the Angel Gabriel “Yes”. Just too bad, but she hasn’t got permission. Not yet anyway, but she will keep on trying to persuade the religious authorities that it is a good idea,..

    Every year she will put in an appeal to Jerusalem. Meanwhile she offers up her suffering, for the good of her soul and for the good of the people. This is what a learned scribe advised her to do. After all, God can afford to wait to send the Messiah, if that is really what God wants. It is an important decision; you would not want to hurry, etc …

    And then the High Priest, determined to silence this trouble maker Mary declares once and for all that there will never be a Messiah. Such is God’s will. And he is the expert on God’s will. What could a woman possibly know about God’s will?

    End of discussion.

    Well, aren’t we jolly glad that Mary did not wait, did not ask for permission and just said her yes: “let it be done unto me according to your Word.” Now. Not when everybody and especially those in power agree it is all right. You can be sure that if she had not, we would still be waiting for the Incarnation. Thank God for Mary’s humility!

    This wonderful story of the Annunciation also makes clear that God did not take the trouble to send the Angel Gabriel to the religious authorities to inform them, still less to ask their opinion. And even Joseph, closest to Mary, was presented with a fait accompli. How cavalier of God to by-pass all the male authorities for this world changing event! A dangerous precedent…
    (Full text on http://www.ministryforwomen.org/interact/vatinel.asp)

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