Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. // Luke 1:38
"Whenever an angel of the Lord comes to you and tells you not to be afraid–get ready for a big assignment!"
A dear priest friend of mine used to include this wry bit of wisdom in any reading that included the words "do not be afraid."
This encounter is no exception.
Mary's Posture During the Annunciation
Nothing about the Annunciation is particularly new, it’s a well-known Scriptural story for many of us. What I like about it is that Mary models a beautiful posture with which to receive prophetic, even startling news about the uncanny way God chooses to move in our lives. I can’t help but wonder what the world might begin to look like if we would respond to even one percent of our collaboration and discernment in the same way.
The angel appeared to deliver a significant announcement. And just like that, in ten short verses, the course of human history is forever altered. God was to become man and arrive from the womb of a woman—the new Eve, Mary.
5 Key Moments in the Annunciation Exchange
This weekend. our family will welcome our littlest into the Church through Baptism. Fitting, as a year ago, after many years of infertility, we unexpectedly found that we would be welcoming a child again (our own experience of God presenting seemingly impossible news).
In this way, God’s providence through the Annunciation to Mary and her fiat resonate deep in my bones and I am loving the chance to delve deeper.
A greeting that communicates joy and peace. When Gabriel appears to Mary, he greets her with the words, “Hail, favored one.”
Despite the wild meaning of his words, Gabriel uses a greeting of peace and assurance.
Isn’t this the nature of our loving God to calm our anxious hearts, even in delivering unbelievably difficult or confusing news, knowing our limited understanding and offering solace from the beginning?
Translated: What I’m about to tell you is pretty remarkable. It is more than anyone could have ever dreamed up or imagined in terms of how God is willing to demonstrate His perfect love. I’m asking you to take it in, in all of its unimaginable goodness before you say anything in response.
The angel’s gentle coaxing offers good guidance to us as to a posture of receiving information–whether expected or unexpected, good news or bad.
We do not know the span of time this encounter lasted. Five minutes... two hours? What we do know is that when Mary does respond, she asks, “How?”
We can almost imagine her stammering, eyes wide. Not with the self-assurance of Abram or Zechariah who have each reached their own conclusions about the limits of God’s desire and ability to show up in their lives. No, Mary’s question is far from doubt, but more of a bewildered, humble, hopeful plea for clarity.
All Mary receives for an explanation is the angel’s response that the Holy Spirit will "overshadow" her, which is deeply significant (and hardly clarifying).
What we do know about other experiences of the Holy Spirit overshadowing can be found in the creation account when the "mighty wind swept over the waters," or Adam was cast into a deep sleep while God fashioned a helpmate for him.
The disciples experienced an overshadowing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Jesus’ own Baptism illuminates the Person of the Holy Spirit descending as a dove, accompanied by the voice of God from Heaven.
In other words: have confidence. God is going to show up in a big way; likely one you cannot comprehend, but simultaneously one you will not miss.
As the angel prepares to depart, Mary responds with the same greeting of peace and joy with which the conversation began: Behold!
She seems to have integrated this message in a way that bolstered her courage and resolve to actively sign on for the wild ride Gabriel had described. It is a beautiful exchange between Gabriel and Mary, and especially Mary and the Lord. In a very particular way, God offers Mary a tiny glimpse at the hope for salvation and proceeds with the Incarnation after Mary’s "yes," her fiat.
Likely the major life changes we experience won’t be heralded in by celestial beings. And, there are plenty of times when our calling finds us before we are ready, before we have offered our own "yes." The Annunciation offers a touching reminder of the love and intentionality with which our God invites us to roles of active participation in an unfolding plan much larger than ourselves.
We may not see it, let alone understand the invitations we receive, but would that our response be as full of confidence as Mary’s.
When have you been invited to respond with a quaking "yes" to the Lord’s invitation in the past? What response is being asked of you by the Lord today?