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, full of grace! 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."
But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?"
And the angel said to her in reply, "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. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God."
Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
Today, March 25, is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. It is the day when we contemplate the moment Mary was asked to become the Mother of God. We know that she agreed, and 9 months later Jesus is born at Bethlehem, on December 25. Whether or not this is the actual date of the Annunciation, and therefore Christmas as the actual birth of Jesus, is not really the point. I've met people who get all worked up about the truth of dates, especially Christmas, and they so often seem to overlook the baby in the manger. So, today we will not concern ourselves with that and instead focus on how this day can help us on our "Slow Greening" Lenten journey.
Certainly, Mary experienced a type of "slow greening" as the Child Jesus grew within her. If ever there is a literal interpretation of the "greening" or life-giving power of God, this is it. But we should remember that it all started with a question. Mary was not forced into anything, on the one hand. She was clearly given time to think about it, to ponder it, and she even asks questions of the angel. Interestingly, this is one of the few times in Scripture where an angel appears, and the human who sees it doesn't tremble in fear. Mary seems surprised, but not afraid. On the other hand, it is not that surprizing that she says "Yes." She has already formed her heart and soul into being the receptacle of God. To be able to to respond to God in a way that allows her to give even more of herself is going to be her natural answer. We also know that Mary was conceived without original sin. Other than Jesus, she is the only human being not to inherit the tendency to fall into choices that move her away from God. Did that make her life easier? Was sin less tempting to Mary because of her unique dispostion?
Not likely. There is no triumph or victory in doing something that is easy. The triumph lies in overcoming what is more difficult, what is hard. Perhaps Mary was thinking that making this offering, saying "Yes," would increase her suffering greatly. That seems likely, especially considering Simeon's prophesy that "a sword will pierce your heart." But, in a true Lenten journey that leads to the cross, the death and burial of Jesus, and the resurrection, Mary accepts and begins to walk the path. She puts her faith in God. As Pope Benedict XVI writes in Jesus of Nazareth, Mary knows that the word of God "is more real and more lasting than the entire material world. The word is the true, dependable reality; the solid ground on which we can stand, which holds firm even when the sun goes dark and the firmament disintegrates. The cosmic elements pass away; the word of [God]is the true 'firmament' beneath which we can stand and remain." So, Mary says "Yes," and places her hope and belief in God.
What is God asking you to do, to say "Yes" to this Lent, in order to experience the "slow greening" power of renewal?