The Annunciation First Joyful Mystery
This day, that would change the history of the world, started like any other day. But the people of Israel could feel an electricity in the air that cut through the calm of the day. Mary had grown up with a full knowledge of Holy Scripture. She, like her brothers and sisters of Israel, was awaiting the Messiah. This promise of a Redeemer had been given to the Jewish people before Moses led them out of the desert.
There was a great need for the Messiah. The chosen people had suffered for many centuries, rather than give homage to false gods. They were enslaved and persecuted before, but now, the Romans had completely crushed them. The worst part of their captivity was not the slavery of their bodies, but the enslavement of their souls. Their ancestors had died rather than worship pagan gods. Now, what could not be done with the use of force, was being accomplished by the pervading, insidious influence of their captors. More and more, the Romans' godless philosophy infused them, choking out the beliefs and traditions of the sons of David. All that the Jewish people had left were memories of King David and King Solomon. They needed another David, another Solomon, someone who would deliver them from their enemies, and give them back their faith and their hope.
It was into this setting that Mary was born and grew up. She grieved for her people, not so much because of their physical suffering, but because they were losing their heritage, their faith in Yahweh, Abba, their Father, their trust that He would take care of them. They were looking to man for answers, and Mary knew there would be no help coming from man. She prayed that her people would look to their God for deliverance, trusting that He would hear and answer them.
Mary's life was one of prayer
Mary had been consecrated to the Temple, as a child. Her ongoing prayer was that the Messiah would come in her lifetime and free the people she loved so much. She spent much of her time in the Temple; but since her father's death, she spent a great deal of time caring for her aging mother, Anne. Mary prayed constantly, even while doing her chores at home. There was a saying: "What good can come out of Nazareth." (John:1:46) Nazareth, through the will of God would give us Mother Mary, Saint Joseph and Jesus.
It was late afternoon. March was filled with promise of new beginnings. Mary had a spring to her step, as she walked home from the well, from which she drew water each day. But somehow, this day felt different. Was she remembering the ancient prayer said at the Seder (the meal celebrating the Passover): "Why is this night different from any other night?" At the Seder, there was always an extra place set at the table in expectation of Elijah's return. But, this night, the place set was beneath Mary's heart, and it would be filled by the Messiah!
Let us try to envision how the events might have taken place. The sun went down, and dusk began to dim the sky; a chill crept into the air. Mary was kneeling in her home, lost in prayer. She began to wonder how it would be, when the Messiah arrived. We can see her praying, a cool breeze brushing past her. Was it the winds blowing off the sea, cooling the house? There was a tingling electricity in the air, a fluttering sound, like that of birds' wings. She looked around. There was nothing. Suddenly a great calm came over her. The wind stopped. There was a hush, a stillness, as if time had stopped. A figure of a beautiful young man entered through the window. There was a brightness about him, as if he were translucent. He looked at her. His eyes were brilliant. At first, she was frightened; then a rush of warmth and peace came over her whole body. She couldn't take her eyes from him.
The Angel said to her, "Hail, most favored one. The Lord is with you." (Luke 1:28)
She was startled by his words.
"Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with the Lord. You will conceive in your womb, and bear a Child, and you will call Him Jesus. 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 David His father, and He will reign over the House of Jacob forever, and His Kingdom will have no end." (Luke 1:30)
What was he talking about? How could she conceive and bear a child? She was a virgin. She wasn't married! She was engaged to Joseph the carpenter, but they had vowed to live a celibate life when they became husband and wife. Yet while she wondered, she never doubted. She asked him with excitement and awe. It was the way a trusting child might ask her daddy how an impossible task would be accomplished.
"How can this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34)
The Angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and for that reason the Holy Child to be born will be called the Son of God". (Luke 1:35)
She gasped. It was as if she was almost afraid to breathe. She didn't understand, at that moment, what the messenger meant by the Holy Spirit coming upon her. The key word in her mind, in her entire being, was "The Son of God". Is this Angel speaking of the Messiah? Is he telling me I am to be the mother of the Messiah, the Son of God? Am I the one, I've been praying for, the one to be the vessel to bring salvation into the world? Is that what he's saying? Mary knew that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. It was part of Holy Scripture. But, she never dared to think she would be the one. Her prayer had been that the Messiah would be born in her generation and she might serve the mother of the Messiah.
The Angel further affirmed the power of God. He added:
"And behold, your cousin Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; she is in her sixth month, and everyone thought she was barren. You see, with God, nothing is impossible." (Luke 1:36-37)
Mary silently prayed: "Oh, my Lord, it is You! Is this really possible? Would You give this honor to me? I'm not worthy." But the words of the Angel pierced her senses, opening her heart and mind: "You see, with God, nothing is impossible." She responded, in her heart: "I trust You, my Lord and my God. I know You would never hurt me. And I would give up my life for You."
She looked up at the Angel before her. He was waiting for something, what? Was this messenger of God waiting for an answer from her? She looked at him, again. He was waiting for her yes! Tears streamed down her face. He looked at her with so much love. His gaze filled her with a profound warmth. She gave her answer:
"I am the handmaiden of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your word." (Luke 1:38) And as the tears cascaded down her cheeks, she cried out in her heart, "Yes! I say Yes!"
Could she hear the choirs of Angels singing praises to the Lord, at these words of their future Queen? The Angel before her, whom we know to be Gabriel, looked at her with blinding joy in his eyes. A brilliant light filled the room, and surrounded her. She felt a surge of energy go through her. She looked up at the Angel. He looked at her. He smiled. It was done.
The Angel slowly disappeared, and the room became dark. The girl, now woman, sat in the darkness, her heart beating, her mind racing. She repeated silently, the words of the Angel. She was to be the Mother of God. She could feel His Presence inside her. It was true. Now she understood!
But do we understand? Incarnation came about! This is one the holiest moments in Salvation History, when through the yes of Mary, God became God-Man, and Heaven was joined with earth. During the Nicene Creed, at Holy Mass, after we profess "For us men and our salvation He came down from Heaven", we reverently add "By the power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man." This moment is so holy that we are directed in the Missalette to bow, and reflect on what happened in a little house in Nazareth, to a Virgin named Mary; and then go on to recite the rest of the Nicene Creed. This is the moment when God finalized His Plan, begun in the Garden of Eden, for a virgin to give birth to the new Adam Who "will strike at his head." (Gen 3:15) At this moment, the Salvation of man began, and so we bow in adoration. At Christmas time, we kneel in reverence. The next time we kneel is on Good Friday, when our Lord gives up His Spirit on the Cross. It has been completed. What began in the womb of our most precious Mother Mary ended with her under the Cross, her Baby Who was born to be sacrificed, dying for our sins. Next Holy Mass, will you bow; will you genuflect?
We know and believe that Mary was Immaculately Conceived. She never bore the sin of Adam, but it didn't mean she was exempt from temptation. After Gabriel the Archangel left her, did the evil one try to fill her mind with fear? Mary was with Child, without a husband. Who was going to accept, she had conceived through the Holy Spirit? What would the townspeople say? She knew what they would do. Do you have any idea what they did with pregnant, unmarried women in that day and age? They stoned them to death! How could she explain what had happened to her mother? What was she going to say to Joseph?
It's pretty well accepted that Mary was in her teen years. Given this set of circumstances, who would have the courage to share what had happened? Did this go through Mary's mind, when the reality of what had happened came crashing down on her? She had said yes; she was now with Child. She had a heavy burden to carry; but the Lord gave her the strength and courage to handle it.
God doesn't make mistakes. He knew right from the beginning that her Child would be the One to bring mankind from condemnation (through Adam) to Salvation (through the New Adam - Jesus). As Eve the first mother of mankind was betraying the trust that God had placed in her and Adam, God our Father was already raising up a new Eve, one who would step on the head of the serpent who had tricked God's first creations to sin against Him. Through a Virgin's yes to God, mankind would rise from the fall caused by one woman (Eve), to New Life through another. And Mary was now coming to terms that she was to be that instrument.
Mary was the happiest woman in the world. She was highly favored of the Lord. Her Magnificat, which she will proclaim a few weeks, later, in the presence of her cousin Elizabeth, will confirm the overflowing love and trust she had for her God, Who had blessed her so.
But it wasn't going to be all roses. There was that problem of how to tell what had happened, especially to her mother Anne and her betrothed Joseph. We have to believe that Anne knew that Mary, her child, had been born for specialness. With a mother's knowing heart, we are sure Anne believed Mary's account of what had happened to her, immediately. Mary had never been anything but pure and holy.
Then there was Joseph. Mary had to tell Joseph! She loved him, dearly. Although it is believed by some, he was older than she, there was a bond between them that was strong. He had always trusted her, completely. Now, she looked deeply into his eyes, as she explained the events of the Annunciation. He was sad; he was hurt; he didn't believe her. What wounded Mary most, having hurt Joseph, or the fact that he didn't believe her? How do you feel when someone you love very much, your very best friend, doesn't believe you? It's devastating. It must have been that way for Mary.
But she persevered. She trusted in her God. She knew, He would not abandon her. After all she now bore the Son of the God in her womb. As much as she grieved, seeing Joseph suffer pain and sorrow, she couldn't help but be so happy when she felt the warm glow of the Messiah Who was growing inside her.
The Lord intervened, as she trusted He would. An Angel came to Joseph in a dream, and confirmed Mary's story. He told Joseph, it was all right to take Mary as his wife. We know that Joseph was relieved. He loved Mary. How could he help but love her. With the exception of her Son, she was the most perfect human being the world would ever know.
These are the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. They are happy times. But they're intermingled with some extremely difficult times, as well. It was not easy for Mary, explaining her situation. Scripture leaves a lot unsaid about what transpired between Joseph and Mary. But we do know that Joseph was going to have Mary put away privately. (Matthew 1:19 Joseph did not want any harm to come to Mary.) Nothing she said could convince him that she was telling the truth. It took an Angel's intercession to finally make Joseph believe what Mary was saying. How did she endure those days or weeks in between? What kind of a strain was put on Mary, and how did she react to it?
There are many teachings, we can draw from the great Fiat of Mary. What was she doing when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her? We believe she was praying! What had been the focus of her life? Getting to know the Lord, her God, by studying Holy Scripture and following the traditions of her Faith. She knew this man was an Angel! After all, she had spent her life learning about how God had spoken to His chosen people through the Prophets and the Angels.
We are often asked how we know, it is God speaking to us. Where is your heart? That is where your treasure will be. If you are looking down, spending most of your time and energy on passing things of this world, then this is what you will know. And the messenger, you will recognize and give your yes to, is not one from Above, but below. Mary's vision went heavenward to the Father and His promise to His people.
The Angel Gabriel spoke to a heart whose every beat was in joyful anticipation of the Messiah. Mary was preparing for her Lord's coming, and He came and made a dwelling place in her. He came and she became a walking tabernacle bringing Jesus to everyone she encountered. Do we prepare before Mass for the Messiah Who is to come, Our Lord Jesus, present to us Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity? As we await Our Lord, do we consecrate to Him: our thoughts, our eyes, our ears, our arms and legs, our heart? Do we reverently carry Him and His Love to everyone we meet? Do they see Jesus in us, as Elizabeth did in Mary, in the Visitation? Are we changed by Communion with the Lord through His Eucharist, as well as through Him in the Word? Who do they see, when they look at you?
Could it be our fault that our brothers and sisters do not know who Mother Mary is? Do we share with them the scripture passage that tells us how the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and, through Him, she conceived the Lord, our Savior? Do we tell them, she was with the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon them, giving them the courage to die Martyrs' deaths for the Faith? Who is guilty, they who love the Holy Spirit and say that they are filled with Him, and do not recognize Mother Mary or we who fail to share the Mother, Jesus entrusted to all of us?
The overpowering message for us in the Annunciation is Mary's "Yes!" The Lord gave her an impossible (for man) proposition, and she said "Yes". She had faith in God that no matter what happened, He would make it right. She could stand on that faith. She staked her life on it. Do we trust God in proportions anywhere near those of Mary? Do we give over control to Him, and then take it back at the first sign of adversity? Or do we cling to control over our lives until we get into a problem situation we just can't handle, and then turn to God for help?
Mary didn't say very much in Scripture; but every word out of her mouth was a gem. If we were to sum up the teaching of the Annunciation, words to live by, it would be those of Mary,
"Let it be done unto me according to Your Word."