Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord (Lk 1: 38).
In these last days of the Advent season we have a whole succession of astonishing conversations to help us prepare for Christmas: the angel speaking to Joseph in his dream; another angel speaking to Manoah’s wife about the birth of Samson; the Archangel Gabriel appearing to Zachary in the temple to announce the birth of John the Baptist; and then, of course, the same great Archangel appearing to Our Lady in today’s recounting of the Annunciation. Now we might wonder, how can these conversations help us here to get ready for Christmas? These are some of the most outstanding people of faith in the whole of human history – St. Joseph and St. Zachary, Our Immaculate Mother – and their interlocutors are angels of the Most High God. Meanwhile, we here below have exams to finish up and a million other tasks to attend to before we can celebrate the great feast.
Two thoughts about how these conversations might inspire us right here during these final days of Advent. First, we notice that all of these remarkable announcements and conversations happen right in the course of the ordinary lives of people who are trying to love God. Manoah and his wife, too old to have children and therefore not expecting anything extraordinary in their family’s future, simply keep going about the tasks of a faithful god-fearing couple, and God reaches right down into their lives to reward their faith and to use them for His divine plan.
St. Zechariah is simply attending to his ordinary priestly duties in his turn there in the temple, and God reaches right down into his life and that of his wife Elizabeth to reward their faith and use them for His divine plan. Our Lady, as perfect and immaculate, as perfectly humble and faithful as She was, simply kept at the ordinary tasks of her simple family life there with St. Joseph when the Archangel Gabriel showed up there to ask Her if She would set the Incarnation of the Word in motion. We find her depicted variously on that wonderful day spinning, or meditating on the Scriptures, or simply sitting in silent prayer – whatever She was doing, God reaches right down into her life to reward her faith and to use her for His divine plan.
The point here is that we too, my friends, you and I, can very easily imitate these great people in our faith today, in our attention to the ordinary tasks of this day – finishing up our exams and getting ready to move back home for a few weeks (students), settling into a blessed time of retreat in preparation for vestition (postulants), patiently and joyfully attending to all the details that help our community or your families to prepare the house for Christmas. God reaches down into our regular day-to-day lives too, and He uses them for the unfolding of His divine plan.
So that’s one consideration. Another one is to pause just for a moment on Our Lady’s marvelous answer to Gabriel’s question. A little while ago at Matins we heard St. Bernard reflect so movingly on that breathless pause just after Gabriel said that the Holy Spirit would overshadow Her and the child to be born would be called holy, the Son of God. “Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel … Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive.” And so forth … St. Bernard is unmatched here.
St. Alphonsus then takes up the rhetorical baton and runs with it like this as he reflects on Our Lady’s answer Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word: “O what more beautiful, more humble, or more prudent answer could all the wisdom of men and angels together have invented, had they reflected for a million years? O powerful answer, which rejoiced heaven, and brought an immense sea of graces and blessings into the world! – answer which had scarcely fallen from the lips of Mary, before it drew the only begotten Son of God from the bosom of his Eternal Father, to become man in her most pure womb! Yes indeed; for scarcely had she uttered these words … when instantly the Word was made flesh; the Son of God became also the Son of Mary … For with a fiat God created light, heaven, and earth; but with Mary’s fiat, God became man, like us.”
So as we prepare right now to receive this Word-made-flesh here from this altar, and as we prepare in these days to welcome Him again in the manger, we do that best with Our Blessed Mother. For, as Blessed Isaac of Stella exclaims: “Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb. He dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church’s faith. He will dwell forever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul.” Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!