Tag Archives: Annunciation

The angel entered the house

The angel entered where Mary was
Luke 1:28

Most of our images of the Annunciation have Mary in a contemplative state – with arms crossed, kneeling, or – anachronistically reading a book. I especially love Fra Angelico’s fresco in the San Marcos Convent in Florence.

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There is a Byzantine icon of the angel greeting Mary at a well, based on a story in the Protevangelium of James.

But I really wonder if they have all got it wrong.

What would a woman be doing in a house? Most likely, cleaning, washing clothes and dishes, preparing meals, and maybe even sewing, repairing clothes, or spinning wool. But I have seen almost no images with Mary doing any one these things when the angel Gabriel arrives.

There are also a few icons that have Mary with a distaff.

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Coptic icon of teh Annunciation 91995) by Bedour Latif and Yousef Nassief

There is also a painting by JW Waterhouse which has Mary kneeling with what appears to be a spindle on the ground beside her. (But there is also the anachronistic book.)

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Yet the angel entered and found Mary in her house.

The angel found Zacharias in the temple. Angels appeared to Joseph in dreams.  Angels appeared to the women at the tomb of Jesus. But the Angel Gabriel makes a house call to Mary.

I was thinking of this as I prepared to preach this morning in Debajiados. Without conferring beforehand, Padre German mentioned at the beginning of Mass that the angel came into Mary’s house.

We can encounter God – and God’s messengers – anywhere, especially in our daily lives. We don’t have to be praying; we don’t have to be reading a spiritual book; we don’t have to be kneeling or with our arms crossed over our chests. God comes whenever and wherever.

That is part of the message of many saints and mystics, including Brother Lawrence, famous for his Practice of the Presence of God amid the pots and pans.

But a spirituality which doesn’t take the Incarnation seriously makes many think that we have to be pious to hear God. Piety helps, but attentiveness is more important. And perhaps even more important is being open to God who comes in the little things as well as in the great surprises.

And so let us make sure that we are attentive when the angels enter our house.

 

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Mary and Adam, grace and sin

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. By the grace of God, Mary was free from sin from the moment of conception in the womb of Saint Ann. So today we celebrate that original sin had no power over her.

In her commentary in Give Us This Day, Benedictine Sister Jeana Visel, writes:

In short, we are free, but we are supposed to be opposed to evil. The fact that we tend to give in to evil when we ought to choose good is the basic conflict driving the redemption story.

Mary was freed from this tendency to give in to evil.

But, today’s Gospel may confuse some of us, for it speaks of the annunciation of Mary when Jesus was conceived in her womb.

There is an amazing mural by Giotto of the Annunciation in the Dominican convent of San Marcos in Florence. I knew it was there, but walking up to the former dormitory on the second floor, I was astounded as I turned the corner and saw the image at the top of the stairs. Spell-bound, I remained there in awe. Giotto had captured the moment when God became flesh in Mary.

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Doing a little internet search this morning I came across a painting of Giotto of the Annunciation which is strikingly similar, but includes Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden.

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As I prayed, I recalled the difference between Adam and Eve in the first reading today and the Gospel of the Annunciation.

Adam and Eve hid themselves. Sin hides. When we sin, we separate ourselves from God and so we need the security of being hidden – in the bushes or in darkness.

But Mary is there in the open, almost as if she were waiting for the angel. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” Here I am, Lord. I am here to serve you.

But Adam and Eve try to explain away their sin by refusing to take responsibility. Adam blames Eve, who in turn blames the serpent.

Mary takes responsibility. “Be it done to me according to your word.” I am willing to take on this, even though I do not know all the implications.

This is what grace is. Grace frees us from darkness and opens us to the work of God in the light of day. Grace helps us respond in love to God’s call and frees us from blaming others.

Sin moves us into ourselves, but in a self-protective way that moves us to blame others. Grace opens ourselves to become instruments of God’s love, not blaming others but cooperating in God’s work of salvation.

So today we can reflect on the mystery of the immaculate conception of Mary, preserving her from sin. But it is also a time to reflect and thank God for the grace that moves us out of the darkness of sin, out of all attempts to close in on ourselves and opens us to the angels that call us to bring the saving power of the Incarnate God to a world in darkness.

 

Emptying

Today is Good Friday, recalling and celebrating the death of our Lord Jesus. Today we are also nine months before Christmas, the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus. If it were not Good Friday, we would be celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation.

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There was among some early Christians the belief that the annunciation and the crucifixion shared the same date.

But there are deeper connections between these two events, these two feasts.

Both teach us that our God is not a God who lords it over us. Our God became flesh and handed himself over even to the point of death.

This is, for me, the point of Philippians 2: 6-7:

[Christ Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave (μορφὴν δούλου), coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

But there is another connection, one that causes me to ask what I am called to be and to do.

Mary responded to the angel Gabriel, “Behold the slave (δούλη) of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.”

On the Cross, Jesus cried out, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Both Mary and Jesus handed themselves over to the plans of God, leaving aside their own plans.

Our God is a God who empties Himself, who becomes a slave.

Where do I need to be emptied so that God may come and rise within me?

That is my question for Good Friday this year.

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Photo is of the El Señor de Intibucá.

God comes in the ordinary

The Word was made flesh,
and pitched His tent among us.
John 1: 14

I wonder what Mary was doing that day in Nazareth when the angel came to her.

Some pious images have her praying. One of my favorite images, Fra Angelico’s fresco in San Marcos in Florence, has her seated with her arms crossed.

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But maybe she was kneading bread or washing clothes or preparing wool for making clothes. Maybe she had just returned from drawing water at the local well and was resting after the walk. Maybe she was laughing and playing with cousins or nephews and nieces.

I like to think that God made the announcement to Mary in the midst of her everyday activities, to remind us that we find God anywhere and everywhere, that God calls us in the midst of our daily lives – not to escape, but to make God incarnate in the ordinary aspects of daily life.

More than ten years ago I had the blessing to spend almost two weeks in the Holy Land, hosted by a friend who was volunteering with a Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. I spent one day alone in Jerusalem, during which I walked the Via Dolorosa, the Sorrowful Path, the Way of the Cross.

DSC00128What struck me most was that ordinary life was going on in the streets of Jerusalem, probably as it did on the day Christ carried his cross to his crucifixion: parents walking with their children, people selling from their small shops, even soldiers leaving their barracks.

In the midst of ordinary life, Christ was conceived and Christ was crucified, The extraordinary is revealed in the ordinary.

The Word was made flesh…