The Solemnity of the Annunciation
[Scripture Readings: Is 7:10-14; Heb 10:4-10; Lk 1:26-38]
There is a line in Yeats that goes, “For even daughters of the swan can share/ something of every paddler’s heritage.”Trying to preach on today’s Gospel one could feel like a paddler among swans. The Annunciation Gospel has inspired painters, composers, poets and mystics. St. Bernard has left us several masterpieces in his homilies for this day. We have a whole library of spiritual and artistic material to draw on to help us enter the spirit of the day. We could easily be overwhelmed by the sheer genius of it all.
But in the liturgy we are not just to admire the mystery celebrated as much as to re-live it — be incorporated into the mystery. We too are addressed by the angels and asked to be Christ-bearers. Our life, in fact, is filled with annunciations.
The first time we open the Rule of St. Benedict there is an announcement: “Listen my son. Incline the ear of your heart to the advice of a Father who loves you. Welcome it and faithfully put it into practice.”This is like the opening bar of music, the first brush stroke of a painting. It is the theme carried through our whole Christian-monastic life. And it is a Marian theme: Welcome, receive and put into practice the Word we hear, the message we hear. Every time we begin our practice of lectio divina an annunciation takes place.
Listening to and welcoming the Word of God becomes a way of life. We keep vigil every morning, we try to live in recollected openness to the Word. After a lifetime of practice, nothing is lost to our vigilance. Annunciations are everywhere.
The late Fr. Philip told me that when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, after the doctor left the room, he got on his knees and accepted the announcement in prayer. He knew it was a Word from God and welcomed it from the Father who loves us. How he carried his illness is another matter; God sees our intentions, what our heart desires, for nothing is impossible to God.
Ahaz would not even consider an announcement from God. His course was set; his mind made up. There was no room for God. His Word could not find a home there.
The last words of today’s Gospel are: “And the Angel left her.” Annunciations can be great. We can welcome them, but they are just the beginning. The labor of obedience is just that.
Obedience to the Word brought Mary to the foot of the Cross. She is the first of the redeemed. We follow, conforming our life to the Will of God and the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, ” . . . This will was for us to be made holy by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ made once and for all.”We make the same offering in this morning’s eucharist.