Sometimes it seems that life in this age of technology is nothing but one announcement after another. At times, the text message, cell phone call, or email announces happy news -- the arrival of a long-awaited new baby in the family, for example. At other times, the announcement might elicit a shudder or groan -- as in much of the daily news blasted at us via...just insert your preferred form of media. We need only consider the current tense state of world affairs to bring home that point.
Whether welcome news or not, announcements have one thing in common; they almost always evoke a response in the recipient. The announcement we celebrate on March 25th each year was no different in that respect, although its significance was nothing less than world-changing.
The Feast of the Annunciation, today recognized as a Solemnity, has been celebrated since the very early centuries of the Church. It is rooted in Sacred Scripture; specifically, in the Gospel of Saint Luke (1:26 - 38). It has long been conjectured that Our Lady herself provided Saint Luke with first-hand information; his early chapters, termed the Infancy Narrative, in particular are unique to his Gospel and filled with details of the kind stored in a mother’s heart (see 2:19).
~ Straight from Heaven ~ The fact that the announcement we commemorate came straight from heaven is corroborated by the identity of its messenger. “In the sixth month, the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth” (Lk 1:26). The fullness of time which the ancient prophets had foreseen was near; the news of its approach was indeed heaven-sent.
As for Nazareth, according to Mike Aquilina in his book, St. Joseph and His World, the town originated when Israelites of the House of David began to return to Galilee from distant Babylon. This tiny, little-known community was to become the home of Mary and her husband Joseph, and the setting of the announcement precipitating the greatest event known to man: the Incarnation of God’s only Son. How mysterious are the ways of God!
~ Startling ~ The unsuspecting recipient of the heavenly message was a young woman -- a teenager, more likely -- about whose early life we know very little. For even the names of her parents, Joachim and Anne, we must rely on Tradition.
We can surmise that Mary’s family life in Nazareth would have been quite simple and very much God-centered. As observant Jews, their belief in the ancient promise of a Messiah to come would have formed the bedrock of their faith. Had it ever entered their minds that this promise could come to fruition within their own family?
To say that Mary, a humble maiden, would have been startled by the mere appearance of an angelic being would be an understatement at best. Gabriel’s greeting -- “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you” -- would have done little to still the fluttering of her heart, “greatly troubled” as she was, despite his reassurance -- “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (28-30).
Startling also was the final portion of the angelic message: “And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God” (36 - 37). Mary and her family surely knew that their kinswoman and her husband Zechariah were childless after a lengthy marriage. While truly welcome, the news of her pregnancy would have been surprising at the least.
And in between Gabriel’s greeting and the tidings of Elizabeth came the most wonderful news of all.
~ Wonderful ~ Wonderful! The word generally brings to mind situations, experiences, even possessions or tasty meals that evoke the best of feelings in us. In this case, however, we look to a second meaning: amazing, awe-inspiring, full of wonder.
Mike Aquilina summarizes the brief passage (32 - 33) that would suffuse Mary’s soul with wonder: “The angel made it clear to Mary that she would soon be pregnant by the power of God, that her baby would be known as the Son of God, and that he would indeed be the Messiah” (p. 25). In modern parlance, it doesn’t get any more wonderful -- amazing, awe-inspiring, full of wonder -- than that.
~ The Best News Ever ~ And what response did the world-changing significance of the angel’s visit evoke in Mary? There were several, and we can trace their progression as we make our way through Saint Luke’s account. “Greatly troubled” at first; confused at Gabriel’s greeting; wondering how this could happen to her, a virgin; surprised at news of Elizabeth; and finally, accepting and submitting to the will of the Father.
So it was that words -- spoken and received -- at the Annunciation brought about the most stunning reality of all: the Word Himself took flesh in the womb of the humble virgin of Nazareth. With heartfelt gratitude for this, the best news ever, we pray:
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ, thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
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