The Lord Himself will give a sign to the House of David says the prophet Isaiah. A sign not asked for but freely given. “The young woman is with child and will bear a son and she will name Him Emmanuel.” Do you suppose that when Ahaz heard this he had even the slightest inkling of the events being foretold by Isaiah? But this prophesy is fulfilled in St. Luke’s Gospel account of the Annunciation. The Angel Gabriel comes to Mary to tell her that by the power of the Holy Spirit, she will conceive and bear a son and she shall name Him Jesus.
In today’s Gospel reading for the Feast of the Annunciation, we heard tell that Gabriel “came to her” but we have no other information as to how that transpired. Did Gabriel suddenly appear? Did he drop out of the sky? Did he come on a cloud with sounds of thunder? Or did he fly in, waving his wings and stirring up a cloud of dust? He was God’s messenger, so did he have a loud trumpet fanfare or did he simply appear quietly, with reserve and an unassuming presence, so as to soften the shock?
In the Bible, most angels seem to have looked human when they appeared. Is it possible that Gabriel too looked just like an average human being when he came to Mary? We simply do not know. What we do know, however, that where this event occurred is the most unlikely of places: Nazareth, where nothing good can come from (at least it was thought of that way at the time).
Such an occurrence would be enough to frighten anyone but this young woman, thought to be somewhere between the age of 12 and 15 years of age asks the logical question: “How can this be since I am still a virgin? After Gabriel’s assurances that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, Mary accepts the reality of what is happening to her. She freely consents to the divine work that God has undertaken. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”
I cannot even begin to imagine what emotions and thoughts were running through Mary’s mind at that moment, what inner turmoil she must have felt. Think about it for a minute. This young woman accepts God’s will for her, she says yes to the amazing idea that God the Son would be born into the world and she would be His mother. And, as amazing as that sounds, add to her feelings of turmoil the knowledge that the consequences of her decision to submit to God’s will would almost certainly have included stoning. Faced with a truly incredulous proposition accompanied by the virtual certainty of the most severe physical punishment, she accepts her destiny in full and complete obedience to the will of God.
The easiest thing for Mary to do would have been to run away, either literally or emotionally, but she stands fast, and with complete and utter submission and faith, says, “Here I am. I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” This is one of the most profound scriptural statements about holding the course when things get rough; standing with God even in the face of great fear and uncertainty.
What Mary teaches us by her submission and obedience is that we are not our own but God’s. Ultimately, our destinies lie with Him. No matter how hard we try to ignore the fact, or even disavow it, our lives are intimately bound up and intertwined with that of the Almighty. How that relationship works though, is really entirely dependent upon us. If we cooperate with God, if we submit ourselves to His guidance and influence, our lives will soar to heights we never thought possible. But if we turn away from Him, our existence will be mediocre, even miserable and unbearable. We cannot trust ourselves to our own thoughts and reasoning because they will always be subject to the worldly influences around us. Thus, we need the Lord to help us in our earthly journey. We must be able to clearly discern what is right for us, and only the Word of God can help us do that; for God’s light alone dispels the darkness and confusion of our fallen nature and illumines the path to salvation for all men. Mary, in her own discernment, understood this. That is why she willingly said “Yes” to God; she knew that God would never fail her or mislead her. She trusted totally in God’s wisdom and truth.
At the moment the Virgin gave her consent, both heaven and earth were changed. The course for redemption and salvation was set and there was no going back. Man’s destiny now finds a new future in the Incarnation of Christ. Hope and promise find a new place in the scheme of human existence. From Mary’s simple but powerful act of submission and obedience comes the conversion and renewal of human life; conversion from a life of sin and darkness to a life of eternal joy and light.
How open are we to true and ongoing conversion of our lives? Can we truly say those words God so longs to hear from our lips, “Let it be done to me according to Your word?” Or do we add a mental list of caveats and exceptions? Do we start out truly wanting to accept God’s desires for us and later, when the going gets tough, do we falter and turn away? Sadly, the answer for most of us, and I include myself in this group, is that we often do.
So, what are you going to do when your angels comes to you? God’s call to us is usually more subtle than an angel suddenly appearing out of nowhere. I have no doubt that an angel can arrive to visit us with great fanfare but I think it is more likely that God calls us through the angels of everyday life, of those we meet on the street. For you see, the man standing in front of you in the check-out line at Walmart, or the female customer service agent checking you in at the Delta Airlines terminal in Atlanta, or the small child begging you for money on the street in Bangladesh can actually be one of God’s angels sent to give you a message from the Lord.
We must remain especially vigilant and always be on the lookout for God’s angels. Is it the homeless woman with four children, living in an abandoned car, who tells us she is blessed? Is she our angel? She very well could be.
Is it the drug addict who steals to support a habit he or she cannot break free of on their own? Is he or she our angel? They very well could be.
Is it the teenage girl or boy forced into sexual slavery at the corner of 42nd Street and 7th Avenue in New York who looks at us with painful eyes that beg: “Please don’t let this happen to anyone else.” Is he or she our angel? They very well could be.
Is it a friend who cares deeply enough about you to tell you when you are headed down the wrong path? Is that your angel? It very well could be.
Is it the nurse in a hospice who shows us how to serve with love and grace in the face of certain and frequent death? Is that your angel? It very well could be.
If we truly want to be obedient to God’s call and reflect the obedience shown by Mary, then we must start by being open to that call, acknowledging that call, and, whether we like what we hear or not, saying simply, and with all humility, “Here I am; let it be done to me according to Your word.”
Obedience and submission to another is never an easy thing to carry out. Most of us will rebel at such an idea. But to the One who knows the very depth of our hearts, such acts secure for us eternal life and joy. We must not be stubborn or strong-willed to stand against such a thing. Mary willingly submitted to God’s will and her decision earned for her the blessedness of heaven. Though she is the Mother of god, she was nevertheless human like us and she used her free will accordingly. God did not force her to make the decision she made. But her faith was pure and strong and she knew in the deepest recesses of her heart that God would not do anything to hurt her. Having trusted in the Almighty, God blessed Mary abundantly and set her above all men. Imagine what awaits us if we, too, follow Mary’s example of obedience and submission to God. Open your hearts and ears to receive God’s call, my children, and do not flee from His angels when they come to visit you.