In our new prayer book, Luke 1:26-38 is the New Testament reading at Morning Prayer on March 25, as well as the Gospel lesson for the Communion service on this holy day – The Annunciation to Mary. It may be obvious, but it’s easy to miss, that we are now nine months ahead of Christmas Day, the exact relative timing between this gospel story and the birth of Christ. I’ve written about its timing before, and how it can assist our reading of Scripture in the daily lectionary, compared it to other Marian holy days, and even shared a hymn appropriate for the Annunciation. So my backlog of blog posts provide quite a few opportunities for devotional reading.
I also put together a trilogy of theological explorations of various doctrines concerning our Lady, soberly examining the biblical and traditional foundations behind a few popular beliefs. So you can read about typologies of Mary in the Old Testament and their theological implications, the motherhood of Mary from various angles, the significance of the virginity of Mary, and the potential extent of the blessedness of Mary. If you like to learn and study, there you go, have fun!
Rabbit trails aside, let’s settle down with the text mentioned at the start. The angel (traditionally considered one of the Archangels) Gabriel appears to Mary with a message. Gabriel has appeared before, to prophets like Daniel, and will promptly appear again to Joseph. As one great hymn puts it, Gabriel is the “herald of heaven”, always appearing with a message, invariably about the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus. While there is a lot about angels that we simply don’t, and can’t, know, the angelic role of messenger is one that is very informative for the Christian calling – we, too, in our own ways, are messengers or ambassadors or witnesses, proclaiming to the world in some fashion or another that Jesus is here. Just as Gabriel appears, surprises Mary, and gives her good news, so too do we go about the world with surprising news that’s hard to believe: God loves his world such that he came among us in the humblest of ways! We proclaim a Jesus who is great, and is called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God has given to him the throne of his father David, and Jesus will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. Gabriel’s message to Mary, almost verbatim, is the message of the Church to the world to this day.
“How will this be?” How can we proclaim the reality of Christ to a world that so rarely seems interested in listening to us? This is hard question and the answers look different, according to the situation.
Sometimes we must wield the hammer of the Law – identifying the sins of the people and pointing out the dire demands of divine justice.
Sometimes we must apply the salve of the gospel – announcing the prodigal love of a merciful God.
Sometimes we need to proclaim the truth with emotion – that through our fervency the world will realize how serious we are.
Sometimes we need to proclaim the truth with carefully reasoned argumentation – that through such apologetics we may show ourselves a people who are thoughtful and wise, even “scientific” in the truest sense.
Whatever the details, the underlying reality is the same: God is a worker of miracles. He made the barren womb bear life, the made the virgin womb bear life, “for nothing will be impossible with God.”
At the end of the day, our posture before God is perfectly embodied in Mary’s response at the climax of this text. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Car puns aside, this is Mary’s fiat. The first fiat is God’s, in Genesis 1: fiat lux, “let there be light.” That is how the old creation begun. The new creation begins in the second fiat from the Second Eve, the mother of all re-living, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, “let it be to me according to your word.” This is then simplified and codified forever in the Lord’s Prayer: fiat voluntas tua, “thy will be done.”
I daresay there is no holier, no more humble, prayer than this.