The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. Luke 1. 28-33
A Word of Hope
In several faith traditions, today is the Feast of the Annunciation, or the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of the 12 Great Feasts of the church calendar. The timing of the Feast is exactly nine months from December 25, the tradition birth date of the Christ. It is the celebration of the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary at which time he informed her she would become the mother of Jesus, the Incarnation of God. Gabriel also took the time to tell Mary to name her son Jesus, which means “Savior”.
One of my favorite studies in art is comparing the literally thousands of Medieval art interpretations of the story of the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary. The images have always fascinated artists who usually depict a frightened and submissive woman cowering before the powerful figure of a man- but not just any man. This one is glowing with heavenly light and hovering mid-air, flapping his golden wings. It’s typical of the art of the Middle Ages, during which time the artists were almost always men. But is Mary really a submissive woman?
Luke tells us that Mary does not just sit there shaking. She immediately recovers from her shock at the marvelous sight and pointedly questions the angel: “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” After an explanation from her visitor, she models understanding, faith, and cooperation. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Throughout the rest of the Gospel stories, our glimpses of Mary are never about a woman under the authority of a man. She is the key recipient of the message of the Prophet, Anna, and is the family’s spokesperson when she grills the 13 year-old Jesus who had wandered away in Jerusalem. Even when her adult son is reluctant to perform a miracle at the wedding in Cana, Mary presumes that Jesus will follow her instructions anyway. He does. She is physically present with Jesus until his very end on the cross. Finally, she is still with the Disciples in the Book of Acts, leading and teaching the other women in the faith. She knew the story better than anyone; this woman who had treasured up these things in her heart as she held the divine infant in her arms.
Mary’s key appearances remind us that she has bravely and faithfully prepared herself from the beginning for a responsibility that no other person will ever be asked to endure. She was the mother of the Savior.
Jesus, grant to each of us the strength and faith of your mother. Amen.
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Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
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