We all know that Christmas occurs every year on December 25. If you scoot nine months back in time from Christmas, you land on March 25, the Annunciation of the Lord. Although we hear this Scripture passage around Christmas, it actually takes place on March 25, nine months before Jesus’ birth, marking the day of his conception.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that:
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:27-33)
The words the angel Gabriel speaks to Mary certainly hold a great deal of promise and expectation. The angel tells her that this baby will be great in stature and significance. He will be the son of the Most High, an almost unthinkable proposition. He will be given the throne of King David, the mighty ruler who reigned over the golden days of Israelite history. But that's not all. This child will rule forever, and his kingdom will have no end. He will not even be conceived in the normal way. Instead, Mary learns that “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
We know who this child is. It is Jesus the Christ. We know that he was sent from God to save the world, and that he came willingly, even eagerly, despite the hardships that he would undergo.
The words of the angel don’t mention anything about suffering, or grief or abandonment. They certainly don’t talk about humiliation and crucifixion. That part of the story is played out later. At his annunciation, the focus is all on the great victory that will come about, the kingdom of God in place forever, because Jesus is willing to leave heaven and pitch his tent among us, living as a man.
We also know, we, who are making our way through the 40-day Lenten journey, that the suffering and death was necessary in order for Jesus to obtain the glory originally spoken of by Gabriel. This is not simply more glory for himself, but glory that he would share with us, something new that we could participate in. Father A.M. Wachsmann, a German Catholic priest who was imprisoned for resisting the Nazis, wrote that “the Passion is the means by which we are mercifully led from intellectual perception to feeling Christ as a reality. A painful and yet a sweet way.”
The Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord is a good day to take stock of our Lenten Journey. We can recall the great promises given to Mary by Gabriel. We can remind ourselves of the hope and joy of Christ’s birth, and also know these promises were not fulfilled until the Passion had been completed. Can we look at the sufferings and trials in our lives in the same way that Jesus viewed his trials? Can we also offer our suffering, in union with his, for victory in this world and the next? After all, this was how Jesus triumphed over sin of every type, and even over death. Surely, we all have plenty of opportunities to imitate him.
The Collect for Mass on March 25 can guide our prayer:
O God, who willed that your Word should take on the reality of human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, grant, we pray, that we, who confess our Redeemer to be God and man, may merit to become partakers even in his divine nature. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
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