Mar 24, 2011

Christmas in Lent?

Christmas in Lent? Well, not exactly but this Friday’s beautiful Solemnity of the Annunciation to Mary, March 25th, certainly poses shades of the most publicly celebrated season of the year, nine months from now, on December 25th. Historically, it is not clear whether this date determined the date of Christmas or the other way around. Either way, we are not marking the exact date of Mary’s mysterious visit by the Angel Gabriel any more than we are marking the exact “birthday” of Jesus. At what time of year those two related events took place is uncertain and in truth is not as important as what they signify.

The Solemnity of the Annunciation may also be referred to as the conception of Jesus; the Incarnation. It was at that moment, through Mary’s cooperation with the will of God for her, that our salvation event was begun. It was through Mary’s “fiat” that God entered our humanity: “I am the handmaid of the Lord’ may it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38). Like Abraham of old, Mary set out in faith with nothing more than a promise from God. Mary surrendered herself to the mysterious will of God and allowed her life to be forever changed. Likely her comprehension of this was limited as it would be for anyone of us. No one on earth had ever heard such words or been asked to do such a thing by a heavenly visitor. What it all implied for Mary and for the world was yet to be revealed.

The role of Joseph in this is implied by Mary’s claim that, “How can this be since I have no relations with a man?” (Lk 1:34). It is not a question of doubt but rather a statement of some confusion. The angel implied human conception, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son . . .” (Lk 1: 31). And considering Mary’s reaction, the angel’s words struck her as something that would not happen in the future after her formal marriage ceremony to Joseph but would happen immediately.

The Angel Gabriel addresses Mary not by name but by her state of being: "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you!" (Lk 1: 28).  (Immaculate Conception) The angel’s response to Mary’s confusion? “The power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called Son of God . . .” (Lk 1: 35). It is God’s plan that the Holy Spirit intervene here and do something that has never since creation ever taken place. God will be the Father of this child and you Mary will be his human Mother. This likely teenage, virginal maiden whose future was already planned, who was already before the angel arrived “full of grace” is suddenly interrupted and profoundly redirected by the will of almighty God. Yet, all he asked was her cooperation – her “yes” to move this divine plan forward.

As we know very quickly by a continued read of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, Mary’s life was not all hearts and flowers. What began in great mystery very soon found controversy. Yes, the joy of this event, her being filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit, as we read in her visit to Elizabeth her cousin (Lk 1: 39-56), was genuine and inspiring. But, once Joseph discovered her pregnancy (Mt 1: 18-25) this child would be seen as a sign of contradiction. Both Mary and Joseph were pulled into this divine plan and scripture presents them both as very human yet filled with deep faith. The rest is indeed history as we know.

This Solemn Feast is one of joy, however, and gratitude. Not only for Mary’s cooperation but for what it can teach us about God’s plan for our lives. Although it liturgically changes the mood of Lent somewhat it provides inspiration for us when we find ourselves confronted with life decisions.

We pray for guidance, we discern the movements of our heart and life, we listen to other’s advice, we step forward in faith even though God’s will may not be perfectly clear, and we can see Mary as a role model for trusting faith.

God our Father,
Your Word became flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary.
May we become more like Jesus Christ,
Whom we acknowledge as our redeemer, God and man.

(Opening Prayer for the Annunciation)