09Apr 09 April. The Annunciation of the Lord

1st Reading: Isaiah (7:10-14; 8:10)

King Ahaz refuses to ask a sign of the Lord; Isaiah predicts Immanuel

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.

Responsorial Psalm (from Ps 40)

Response: Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will

Sacrifice or oblation you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, Behold, I come. (R./)

In the written scroll it is prescribed for me,
To do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart! (R./)

I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O Lord, know. (R./)

Your justice I did not keep hid within my heart;
your faithfulness and your salvation I have spoken of;
I have made no secret of your kindness and your truth
in the vast assembly. (R./)

2nd Reading: Hebrews (10:4-10)

Why Christ came into the world: to do the will of God

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)

The angel announces that Mary will conceive by the Holy Spirit’s power, and give birth to Jesus

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.


The wind blows where it wishes

When and where the Spirit comes, and with what consequences for our lives, cannot be determined ahead of time. “The wind blows where it will… You do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” In both Hebrew and Greek one and the same word means wind and spirit. Nor can a previous reception of the Spirit determine how it will be done the next time. In today’s gospel, as again in Acts 10:44-48, the Spirit descends unexpectedly. In fact, the sudden gift of the Spirit to the unbaptized household of the Roman cohort, “religious and God-fearing,” yet non-Jewish and non-Christian, took even Peter by surprise. Yet immediately Peter exclaims: “What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit, even as we have, from being baptized with water?” Peter is prepared for the consequences of immediately baptizing pagan Romans, without first making them undergo Jewish circumcision. He thus anticipated Saint Paul in opening the doors of the Church to gentiles.

John portrays Nicodemus as one whose mind is clouded and who attempts to neutralize Jesus’ highly spiritual statements with his own earthly ones. Nicodemus finds this talk about re-birth quite foolish! “How can a man be born again once he is old? Can he return to his mother’s womb?” Despite such opposition, bordering on sarcasm, the Holy Spirit can manifest God’s presence.The gift of the Spirit shakes a person’s life to its roots; it induces new birth. It overcomes all opposition, be it military, political or religious. It states positively and unmistakably: you are an entirely new person. You live a new life. Everything about you will look different. Your responses to friends, your hopes for yourself or for your family and community, your ideals, your scale of values, all these vital aspects of life will look different. Your eyes will look out with the wonder of a newly born infant. You will run in all directions like a child and find that everything brings adventure. You will be accompanied with “cures and signs and wonders to be worked in the name of Jesus.”

Yet at the same time, you remain the same person that you were before. What the Spirit achieves is a spiritual rebirth. A person does not re-enter his mother’s womb. Rather an interior transformation takes place which activates hidden potential, which enlightens what was covered over with darkness (Jesus is ” the light!”), which sharpens what had become dull and boring (Jesus is “salt of the earth!”).

An unusual Pharisee

Many different kinds of people meet with Jesus in the course of John’s gospel. In today’s gospel, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. He was a Pharisee, a member of that group who are consistently hostile to Jesus in John’s gospel. Yet, here was a Pharisee who stood out somewhat from his peers. He was attracted by Jesus, and he allowed himself to be drawn to Jesus, even though it meant going against the prevailing current. His first approach to Jesus is tentative, coming to Jesus under cover of darkness. His last appearance in John’s gospel is much less tentative; along with Joseph of Arimathea, he sees to it that Jesus is given a dignified burial. Nicodemus journeyed closer to Jesus in the course of the gospel of John. His story encourages us to make progress in our own relationship with Jesus, even when that means going against the prevailing tide. Even if our relationship with the Lord seems tentative at times, Nicodemus encourages us to believe that it can become less so. Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in today’s gospel remind us, however, that our growing towards the Lord is not just our own doing; it is ultimately the work of the Spirit in our lives. Jesus declares that we need to be born of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. As a sailing boat needs the wind, we need the Spirit at our back if we are to make our way towards the Lord. That Spirit is available to us all. The season of Easter is a good time to invite the Spirit afresh into our lives.