25 March 2009 Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Isaiah 7,10 – 8,10; Psalm 40; Hebrew 10, 4-10; Luke 1, 26-38
In the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Birth of the Lord, we ‘pause’ a bit from the mood of the Lenten Season with the singing of the Gloria. There is indeed reason to glorify the Lord. Let me give you the reason by contrasting it with the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth.
The birth of John the Baptist stressed the continuity of the hopes and history of Israel. Just as Yahweh promised a Savior in the Old Testament, it will be preceded by a great prophet who would pave the way of the Lord, crying out in the desert to prepare for His coming. The coming of the Lord, the fulfillment of the hope for a Messiah, will indeed come just as Yahweh promised the people of the past.
But the focus of the birth of Jesus is the radical newness of God’s saving action. It is radical because it is not within the expectation of the people. The Jews expected a political Messiah born with a silver spoon, but God’s Messiah was an ordinary citizen. Horacio de la Costa SJ said that Christmas is a season of surprises. John’s birth was announced in Judea the center of Jewish worship; but the surprise was that the birth of the Messiah was announced in Nazareth of Galilee, a lesser province and a Roman secondary outpost. John was great in the eyes of the Lord, but the Child was the Son of God. Elizabeth gave birth naturally to John by the healing of her barrenness, but Mary gave birth to Jesus by the power of the Spirit. John was a prophet, but Jesus was the Messiah, the eternal King.
Thus, the point and meaning of this celebration for us today is seen in the openness and response of Mary to the announcement. The angel Gabriel called her favored and blessed. But how? Not of her making, but that God has chosen her for a special role in salvation. A mere human, even if she was ‘holy’ and pious, is not worthy to have God in her womb; or even to give ‘birth’ to Him. But it was God who made her worthy of it, because He chose her. That was why she was favored and blessed. And so she responded, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” This is the appropriate and right reception to the radical action of God: we say as the Responsorial Psalm, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”
Vatican II’s Constitution of the Church (#53), stated that “At the message of the angel, the Virgin Mary received the word of God in her heart and in her body, and gave life to the world”. It means that we can all share in the graces received by Mary by being open and responsive to the will of God. First, we are to receive the word of God in our heart and in our body. We do hear the word of God in our liturgy, when we read the bible privately, and when we pray using Scripture. We receive God’s word in our heart when we savor it in personal prayer, religious activities, recollections and retreats. We live God’s word if we follow God’s will and practice it in our daily lives. Thus, we can change the world if we can integrate the teachings of Jesus with our everyday life, just as Mary’s yes meant having her heart “pierced with the sword” and her life revolving around her Son.
But what about our sinfulness which we reflect in the Season of Lent. We remember Mary: our being blessed and graced is not on our account, but on the choice of God to make ourselves worthy. Have you not notice that this is precisely what we say before we come to communion? There is a general absolution at the Penitential Rite at mass (thus, we are indeed cleansed or made worthy at mass, but still require private confession), and then, we say “Lord I am not worthy to receive you (and we know why), but only say the word and I shall be healed” (meaning, it is Jesus’ decision that makes us worthy). Thus, when we line up for communion, we have been favored and blessed to receive Jesus in our hearts and in our bodies. And as we go, we are made worthy to be missioned to spread the Word of God to the people we encounter everyday. Hoping, that with our preaching and example, we, as Jesus representatives, can give life to the world.