Within this past week, we celebrated the solemnities of Joseph and Benedict, remembering their fidelity to God’s call and praying that we might join in their company in living the good life, directed by wisdom, love, and justice. Today we celebrate the annunciation of God’s desire to be born of a woman so that, fulfilling the words spoken by the prophets, God might be with us as one of us, deliver us from the darkness of death, and lead us into the ways of the kingdom that knows no end. The annunciation begins not with an announcement, but with a greeting and a calling. It is Mary’s response to this call that fulfills the prophecy spoken to Ahaz in Isaiah. Mary’s “fiat” sets things in motion.
What was God doing? God chose to become human through a young Jewish woman of poor stature if she agreed to it! A most unexpected, topsy-turvy means for God to “be with us.” After greeting Mary, acknowledging her to be full of grace, blessed among (in the company of) women, and favored by God, Gabriel poured forth the GOOD NEWS:
BEHOLD, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end!
What? You are kidding!!
(But angels aren’t allowed to kid!)
Mary inquired, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man!”
How can this be? How can this be? Perhaps these four words, or something like them, have been a question many of us have asked at some time in our lives, perhaps even this past year. Take a moment to feel what underlies this question. Incredulousness. Doubt. Fear. Anxiety. We don’t know for sure how Mary felt, but in an oppressive patriarchal society, under Roman rule, where women and youth were not highly valued, many of these feelings could certainly arise. And then the answer that Gabriel gave could only have added to the incredulity of the proposal. Perhaps it was the mention of her cousin Elizabeth and the reminder that “nothing is impossible for God” that freed Mary from the paralyzing grip of any fear and allowed her to freely say, “May it be done to me according to Your Word.”
Nothing is impossible with God. Today’s feast announces the Good News. Mary is the first to receive it, and she is the first to announce it in her visit to Elizabeth. In this morning gospel reading Mary is center stage, and this story has been widely depicted in art, music, poetry, and prayer. It is the source of the Hail Mary, and consequently, much of Marian piety. The key to understanding Mary, according to Elizabeth Johnson, is that Mary is a woman of Spirit. In her book Truly Our Sister Johnson writes: “Whether she was taking initiative, [as in the wedding at Cana], rejoicing, [ as in the Magnificat], criticizing, [as in Jesus departure from his parents on their return from the Temple], pondering, suffering, or otherwise finding her way through ordinary days, her loving partnership with Spirit-Sophia inscribes in our history a story of grace. In this, she is sister to all who respond to the gift of the Spirit in their own lives, in ways seen and unseen. Together, they[we] form the communion of saints. (Mary, Friend of God and Prophet, 306).
Johnson writes: “To call Mary blessed is to recognize the blessedness of ordinary people who are called to participate in the work of God in our own day” (308). Mary was “first and foremost a real human woman of our history, graced by God with the gift of the same Spirit given to all” (313).
Mary’s distinctiveness lies in being the mother of Jesus. Full of grace from the beginning, she signifies what the Church is by the grace of Christ and what the Church is called to be; she and we are part of the Church’s proclamation of the healing, liberating salvation from God in Jesus. She is our sister. She is our companion. Her blessedness is “a sign of the capacity of all women to bear the image and likeness of God.” (321). Her Magnificat is our prayer. God has done great things for us.
This morning we sang “Here am I Lord, I come to do your will.” In his book, The Church of Mercy Pope Francis identifies Mary as one who listens to God, listens to events, and interprets the events in her life. We, too, are called to listen to God who speaks to us through our daily reality, who puts signs on our path and gives us the ability to see them. In today’s gospel of Luke Mary, full of grace, gained sight by showing her troubledness, inquiring about the “facts” and keeping the Word of God. With Mary, our sister, may we, by the grace of God, be honest about our troubledness, seek understanding, and place our trust in God, live the Word and keep it, offering ourselves, saying, “Here I am, Lord” as God speaks to our hearts in the Word, in community, in the Church, in the cries of the poor, the needy and the earth, participating, as did Mary, in the liberating Good News that is Jesus Christ.