The Annunciation Of The Lord
In Luke’s Gospel there are two annunciations: the angel Gabriel foretells the birth of John the Baptist to his father Zachary, and announces the birth of Jesus to his mother Mary.
No Gospel scene, with the possible exception of the birth of our Lord, has inspired so many artists and poets as the Annunciation. Luke’s verses have since become the core of the most beloved prayer in the world, ‘the Hail Mary’, which evokes this scene every time it is uttered.
As Luke puts it, Gabriel, the angel of the messianic age, brings a message from God to an obscure young woman in Nazareth, whose name is Miriam - or Mary. Once again, God chooses ordinary people.
The angel blesses Mary. “Full of grace” or “most favored one” tells us that the Almighty has blessed this young woman in a special way. This is not a cause for fear or apprehension, but for joy, as the young woman is about to conceive and bear a son.
The angel is careful to say that this child is unique, with phrases like “son of the most high”, “the throne of his ancestor David”, “King over Israel forever” and “son of God”. All these titles are expressions of faith, crafted by the Church as titles of Jesus.
The angel goes on to indicate that this conception and birth will not be a human affair, but divine. In other words, it is through God’s initiative and power that this Child will be born, not through ordinary sexual intercourse. This is why Christians say Mary is both Mother and Virgin.
Mary’s response is to accept this, to allow herself to be graced. “Be it done to me, as the Lord’s servant,” she says. For God to become human, a human person had to cooperate. This is what Mary does, on behalf of us all.
Did the annunciation really take place the way it is described ? Not quite. Luke has written a theological statement, not a realistic account. Which means, The exchange between the angel and Mary is a depiction of our faith in God and his plans for mankind. It’s a symbolic language.
That’s what a symbol does: it brings deeper meaning to a physical or emotional state, and makes us reach out beyond ourselves, as in the angel’s conversation with young mother Mary.
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