The Annunciation - 25th March 2022

From the Gospel according to Luke:

The angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, "Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.

As we will sing tomorrow morning “Today is the beginning of our salvation”, the moment when the birth of Christ, God incarnate, appears on the horizon of our liturgical year. A glimpse of Christmas in the midst of our Lenten preparations for Easter. We celebrate a day when history changed, when God stepped into human life in a new way, yet a day long prefigured in the journey of the people of Israel. It was also a day already prepared in the life of Mary and takes us deeply into the mystery of vocation, hers and ours.

It has only just struck me that the angel burst in upon Mary with a statement, not a request. He did not say “please would you think about bearing the son of God?” but “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son”. It seems like a done deal. Did she have a choice?

There is in the Christian tradition this constant interplay between predestination and free will. Do we or don’t we have a choice in the matter? We sing tomorrow of how “God awaits his creature’s free consent” but did the angel’s statement really leave any freedom? We have probably each one of us confronted this as we have wrestled with our vocation and the way it has unfolded in the life of this community. As with any of the paradoxes of our faith the answer seems to be both / and. Mary’s openness to even see the angel and hear his message must have come from a life lived deeply in God. She was already living her consent to God’s will, however perplexing, and so the angel’s message was both a statement of God’s will but also a response to her unfolding consent to this will throughout her life leading up to this point.

But even within this giveness to God’s will she had a question:

Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”

It says something important that the angel did not rebuff Mary’s question about how this could happen. She was not struck dumb as Zechariah was, having asked "How will I know that this is so?” when told of the improbable conception of John the Baptist. Was this because for Mary this question was already coming from a place of acceptance? It was a desire to know more of the ways of God rather than disbelief that it could happen. Zechariah’s “How will I know” speaks of a lack of trust rather than a deep surrender to God’s will. He needed an independent sign to know that is was so – and hence the dramatic sign of being struck dumb. God engages in dialogue with us and draws each of us on in different ways to deeper faith.

For Mary the answer still drew a veil of mystery over the event – “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” There is an echo of the story of the creation of all things, the Spirit hovering over the waters, as God called the world into being. The angel simply seems to be saying “Trust the God who created you and called you to be who you are.” And Mary does indeed respond in trust: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; Let it be with me according to your word.”

As she watched the life of her son unfold she would surely have wrestled with what the angel said about him: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.” She must have struggled to continue to consent to God’s ways as Jesus went to his death. Was this what had been promised? I imagine that her “yes” had to be renewed day by day as she wrestled with her incomprehension.

We too as we respond to our vocation to a life of prayer in this place must wrestle daily with what it is that we are called to. To what did we say “yes”? Our lives are very comfortable and what does that mean as we confront a world that is torn by violence and environmental degradation? Where is God in this? I believe that by living our rhythm of prayer here in response to God’s call we reach out to those in unbearable situations, most especially perhaps our Benedictine sisters and brothers in Ukraine and in other troubled parts of the world who share that rhythm. We must hold the hope of God’s salvation for all, given in Jesus who was born as a result of Mary’s “yes”.

Mother Anne - 25th March 2022