Imprinted fondly in my memory is the picture for “The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation” in the little paper book that taught me how to pray the rosary, The image showed a stately Mary, tall and dignified even on her knees. Her tiny perfect and improbably small hands are held out before the golden haired Archangel Gabriel. Neither of their faces show any emotion. They look like brightly painted statues.
As I tried to learn the rosary the Annunciation story from the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel was brand new to me. Reading it I was intrigued that God seemed to be asking Mary to be the Mother of Jesus. The Lord is not telling her or just making it happen. She understands this is a request and says yes. I was impressed with the spunk she showed in asking the Archangel for clarification before she responded.
I wondered what she felt. What did Gabriel think? Was he surprised at God’s choice of this young girl? Was he a bit worried? Or did he see as God sees, captivated by Mary’s beautiful soul?
The picture didn’t say much to me about either Mary or Gabriel’s thoughts.
It alienated me a bit that the serene statuesque and otherworldly Mary gave no hint that she was a real person. I think we can easily make the same mistake unconsciously. That keeps too much distance between us and Mary. If we think of Mary as a wispy apparition of untouchable holiness how can we be close to her? I wanted very much to be close to her.
My little rosary book suggested I think of “Mary’s obedience and submission” when she gave her consent to become the Mother of God as I reflected and prayed. I know she had these virtues.
However to me her courage and love are what amaze me. She accepted this commission for the love of God and for our sakes. I think she was filled with joy and excitement once she got over the holy terror of the angel’s presence and the unimaginable message he brought and his strange greeting calling her “full of grace.”
She would, as someone whose life was woven through with Scripture, have known how Gideon was greeted by an angel in Judges 6:12
The angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said, “The Lord is with you, ·mighty warrior!” (What? Me?)
It’s true of Mary though. If you read Genesis 3:15 she is in battle with the Evil One. She is a mighty warrior. The word we see translated as “enmity” (EBAH) here in Hebrew connotes the total hatred of sworn enemies continually at war with one another. She and Jesus are at war against Satan.
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
For us she is the new Eve, the woman who is Mother of the Messiah to come whom this verse predicts will crush the Serpent.
I wonder if she thought of that verse too? She surely would have known it.
She definitely would have wondered what “full of grace” could possibly mean. She wouldn’t have been able to place it because the only other person to be called “full of grace” in the Bible would be her Son who was yet to come.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1: 14)
There would have been a lot of surprises for Mary that day.
What?! God has a Son? This is new.
“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Dt. 6:4) would have been recited by her family daily, and at Synagogue on the Sabbath.
What?! The Messiah is coming? Now? Through me?
She bravely asks how this is going to work since she is a virgin, a state she intends to remain in apparently since the Angel had not said when this conception would occur and she was legally engaged to be married. It could have come about in the usual way. She trusts but she does ask for understanding. (Luke 1:34)
Once she understands she is all in!
Our Lady declaring herself as the handmaid of the Lord is her saying she sees herself as the God’s low ranking servant. At the same time a handmaid has a very intimate place with the one she waits on. She is at his side handing him things, at his side as a helper, quietly present for everything. Maybe in this moment she suddenly realizes who she is and voices this. Maybe she always felt different but didn’t know why. Now in her humility she is filled with awe. After all humility is simply the truth about one’s self and inspires gratitude.
“The Lord has done great things for me and holy is his Name.” (Luke 1:49)
Rather than merely a gracious answer of obedience and submission I think Mary’s “yes” may have been more like Alan Shepherd saying “Let’s light this candle!” when he was about to blast off to the moon, more like the impetuous embrace of a joyful daughter of Israel.
It seems to me she would have wept with astonishment and the deepest joy. Maybe Gabriel did too.
Thinking of the Annunciation with Mary as very human and scared and amazed and surprised and real helps me feel close to her in that moment everything changed and God was among us.
I can almost feel her catch her breath – the wind of the Spirit rustling her hair.