Ilario da Viterbo, Annunciation, 1393, Porziuncola, Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi

Sunday, December 24
Luke 1:26-38

We are almost at the end of the Laudato Si’ Journey, which accompanies the Sundays of Advent towards the Lord’s Nativity, entering the intimacy of a home. The scene of the Annunciation provides an excellent opportunity to prepare our hearts for the upcoming Christmas scene.

Like John the Baptist, who is an icon of our being witnesses, Mary is an icon of humanity in the service of the Word. Humanity, though extremely humble, is clothed in immense glory by God.

Today’s passage is perhaps the one that has given rise to most prayers and practices in Catholicism: from the Hail Mary prayer and the Holy Rosary to the recitation of the Angelus to the sound of bells, three times a day as intuited by St. Francis; in morning and evening prayer, in the midday pause, in Ignatian spiritual exercises, this passage from Luke’s Gospel is always remembered. However, like other well-known works, from music to painting, this text also risks being worn down by our habit.

Today’s scene belongs to a diptych; it is the second part of the annunciation to Zechariah. While the first is in Judea, in Jerusalem, this one is in Galilee, in an unknown city; the first is in the temple, indeed in the sanctuary of the temple, the second in a humble home; the first announces the last of the prophets, the second the novelty of the promise of Israel being fulfilled. Dante, intertwining the figure of Mary with God the creator and the whole creation, describes Mary in sublime form: “Virgin Mother, daughter of your Son, humble and exalted more than any creature, the fixed term of eternal counsel, you are she who ennobled human nature so that its Maker did not disdain to become its creature. In your womb, love was rekindled, through whose warmth in eternal peace, this flower has germinated” (Paradiso XXXIII, 1-9).

Mary’s yes allows a new creation; it is placed at the beginning of the Gospel because she is the prototype for all of us in true discipleship, for those who listen to the word that allows God to be born in the world, as mother and brother of Jesus. This yes happens “in the sixth month” from John the Baptist’s conception when the promise is not yet mature. The sixth month, akin to the sixth day of creation, symbolizes incompleteness. Embracing God’s plan, contingent upon our free will has the potential to bring about fulfillment in the midst of what is incomplete. Each of us today can also say yes; there is no need to wait for an indefinite future. Just open our eyes, watch, as we were asked to do at the beginning of Advent, and realize that there is a Gabriel, גַּבְרִיאֵל “strength of God,” who allows the word to operate in the world.

Leonardo da Vinci, Annunciation, around 1472-1475, Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze

The rabbis taught that God fashioned the world using the letters of the alphabet. Combining these letters allows us to comprehend the entire world; everything becomes intelligible when we grasp the codes of interpretation. This creative word originates externally; “Entering her,” the angel can articulate, and at the narrative’s conclusion, “he departed from her,” suggesting that our daily existence is briefly touched and then continues, sustained by the fruits of this encounter. The initial word addressed to Mary is Χαῖρε, “rejoice,” sharing the same root as κεχαριτωμένη, meaning “full of grace,” directed at a woman who εὗρες γὰρ χάριν, “has found favor.” When God reaches us in our Nazareth abode, the first request is for us to embrace happiness. Laudato Si’!

Mary’s profound disturbance, a precious insight, reveals that God’s presence was unexpected; in our lives, free from pride, it is natural to sense inadequacy. Hearing “God is with you” can, on one hand, bring serenity, but, on the other hand, evoke a feeling of dizziness and insufficiency. Hence, the initial solace for Mary’s disquiet is the directive to “not be afraid” and the assurance that “you will conceive, give birth, and call by name.” This new creation, made possible by human affirmation, stands as a corrective response to the faltering affirmation of Adam and Eve. Returning to the Garden of Eden, we discern God the creator urging us to cultivate and safeguard.

This garden is possible on earth even with its limits; “I do not know a man,” by opening our eyes around us and learning to read the signs of the times, “And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, in her old age…”. Saying yes requires dialogue, discernment, and research, even if many points remain hazy, and God’s design is ultimately incomprehensible.

“Here is the servant of the Lord.” Mary, in essence, identifies herself as δούλη, or a slave, even though for us, this term might seem a bit extreme. In truth, it is more beautifully expressed, as, while a servant undertakes tasks for the master, a slave belongs entirely to the master: Mary willingly embraces being “wholly His.”

Let us pray to the Lord that on this Sunday, He helps us live with true devotion to the novelty of the Incarnation, with the words of Saint Francis of Assisi inspired by the muezzins who marked the days in the East in the 13th century, saying: “And you must announce and preach His glory to all the peoples so that every hour, when the bells ring, praises and thanks to Almighty God are always given by all the people throughout the earth” (Letter to the Custodians 1,8).