Today the penitential, somber spirit of Lent gives way to the joyful celebration of the Annunciation. In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus said, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” How can he be lifted up unless he first comes down? And how can he come down unless there is a fitting place to receive and welcome him? These questions are answered when the angel Gabriel is sent to Mary of Nazareth.
God could have done things differently. He could have appeared in human form, as he did at different times in the Old Testament. He could have chosen other ways to tell us that he loves and forgives us. Today we rejoice that he chose a much greater way – and at the same time a much humbler way – to reveal himself to us. The Son of the Father becomes a man himself; he unites God and man in one Person. He does not cease to be God, but he makes man more than he was. This is the plan, but how will he do it? He starts his life just as every human life begins, in the womb of his mother. We celebrate today the conception of the Word made Flesh.
On one hand, Gabriel speaks of a very normal, human thing: “You will conceive and bear a son.” Mary is of marriageable age; she is already betrothed to Joseph. But on the other hand, this case is not normal, not human: this conception is to be by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is completely unique – an amazing act of God! When Mary asks, “How can this be?”, she receives this astounding answer: “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.”
God will become man. But he awaits Mary’s cooperation. God does not force us to accept his will. He has great respect for human dignity and freedom. We are not usually like him in this sense. When we come up with a great plan, we tend to trample over everybody to make sure that we get our way. We do not even think about what other people might think or how they might be affected. But God works differently than we do. As St. Augustine said, “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us” (cf. CCC 1847). God did not have to ask us in order to create us because there was no one to ask. But once we exist and we have an opportunity to make a response, he respects our freedom. So, the eternal plan for the salvation of the world, which was in the mind of God from the beginning, is now laid at the feet of this young woman. In a sense, God is bowing down before Mary, waiting for her answer.
When the angel Gabriel makes the announcement, he speaks in the future tense: “You will conceive…. the Holy Spirit will come….” What changes it from the future tense to the present tense is Mary’s fiat. Her answer, her free human response, which on the surface looks ordinary, is in fact most profound. “May it be done to me according to your word.” Only after she says this does the mystery become present. In the secret of her womb, the Word becomes flesh. Nine months from today, we will celebrate his birth – Christmas. But his conception takes place today, with Mary’s “yes.” The Annunciation is the beginning, the first joyful mystery, the entry of God into time as man.
Today’s feast teaches us the power of a “yes” to God. Many things happen in the world and in our lives without our decision. Car accidents, violent storms, plane crashes, natural disasters – these unchosen events strike us as being very dramatic and significant, and the media pick up on them and broadcast them. But the most powerful moments, which are almost never caught by the media because they are almost completely imperceptible, are the times when man says “yes” to God. In these moments, God stands at the threshold, just as he did with Mary, awaiting our decision. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Rev 3:20). When we say “yes,” a secret, almost imperceptible but powerful revolution takes place. It is the difference between a closed door and an open one; between darkness and light. When we say “yes,” God floods us with his grace; he shares with us his divine life. To say “yes” is to welcome the seed of eternal life. On this feast, we pray for the grace to say “yes” with Mary, and to open our hearts to God.
Do I imitate the humble response of Mary to God when He manifests his will for me? In what circumstances do I find it difficult to say my “yes” to God? Am I allowing God to flood me with his grace and to share with me his divine life by my saying “yes”?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.