The Annunciation: A Pattern for Our Lives

icon, mary, jesus, infant

icon, mary, jesus, infantThe feast of the Annunciation is one of the highlights of the liturgical year because, through it, salvation was made possible for all of humanity, through all time. Without it, Christmas and Easter would not have been possible. Yet, the Annunciation revolves around the assent of will by a teenage girl. Much commentary has been written on Mary’s fiat as the pattern for our continual assent to the will of God, and rightly so, for Our Lady’s assent of will required faith, trust, and humility beyond what our minds can fathom.

Three other aspects of the Annunciation merit reflection, however, for it helps us live a holy, virtuous life. First, the Annunciation elevates the commonness of our lives. Second, the Annunciation provides us with a concrete example of how to live a holy life. Finally, the Annunciation gives us reason to trust in God’s perfect timing at work in our lives.

The Annunciation: Elevating the Daily Life

One of the most beautiful reflections on the Annunciation is the poem “I Sing of a Maiden” by Fr. John Duffy, C.S.s.R. In the poem, Fr. Duffy writes:

She was the Mother of the wandering Word,
Little and terrifying in the laboring womb.
And nothing would again be casual and small,
But everything with light invested, overspilled
With terror and divinity, the dawn, the first bird’s call,
The silhouetted pitcher waiting to be filled.
(emphasis added)

Fr. Duffy’s poem points out an important reality present in the Christian faith, namely, that through Mary’s fiat to be the Mother of Jesus Christ, nothing is small or insignificant. Think first about the simplicity of Mary’s fiat: her simple ‘yes’ was more than just a yes; it echoed outside of time. Through her simple ‘yes’ salvation of all mankind was made possible. A simple assent to God’s will set into motion the greatest demonstration of love.

Think too of the daily, hidden life of the Holy Family at their home. Mary must have cooked thousands of meals for Jesus and St. Joseph, washed loads of laundry (by hand!), and gone to fetch water and purchase food for the family, among many other daily tasks. These mundane tasks, however, took on a greater meaning of love and servitude because it was done for Christ. Because of the Incarnation, everything we do and experience has the potential to be filled with the Christ-life for we are given the opportunity to participate in the love of Mary for Jesus. We can imitate Mary and serve Christ in everyone we encounter. To do so is to truly live a Christian life, to see the soul of the other who is designed by God out of love and destined to enjoy his company for eternity. Our small encounters are no longer casual; they are filled with the acceptance of Christ into our lives.

The Annunciation: Making the Abstract Concrete

Through Mary’s fiat, no longer does God seem far off and removed from our humanity; rather, God draws so close to us, taking on our very human nature so that we might be able to seek and find him. Adrienne von Speyr observed that “if [Mary] is taken away, all you are left with is an abstract Redeemer.”

By the free and complete gift of Mary’s humanity to incarnate the Son of God, Jesus Christ experiences all our joys, tribulations, and sorrows. His Incarnation gives us a perfect embodiment of how we are to live our lives. Consider it in this way: it is one thing to understand sacrifice in the abstract. Yet witnessing the self-sacrificing gift of another for you makes the conception of sacrifice much easier to understand and provides an example of how to sacrifice. This is precisely what Christ does for us in the Incarnation.

Moreover, Mary was not asked to serve God in any extraordinary works or heroic resolutions, but to serve him with her entire being in the everyday activities. She continued living her ordinary life so that Jesus Christ could live a hidden, ordinary life, like so many people have over the centuries, receiving no public acclaim or extraordinary gifts. Our humanity is elevated to something beyond what we can perceive with our physical senses for it takes on an eternal quality because of Christ’s choice to live a hidden, ordinary life.

So too, the simple activities of our daily lives have the potential to be extraordinary acts if we but imitate Mary in doing these activities for Christ. Mary’s simple life, caught up in the day-to-day tasks, allowed her to make her very life a gift to God. Likewise, our mundane, ordinary work allows us to make the gift of our lives to the Lord. It can be easy to fall into the temptation to think that we can only serve Christ through some great heroic act and to be frustrated to not have the opportunity to prove our love of Christ in a dramatic fashion. Christ, however, desires that we love and serve him, more often than not, in the ordinariness of daily life, not in the extraordinary things. Our call to do God’s will is found in our daily schedules and to-do lists. What a delightful thing it is to be able to do God’s will by driving one’s children to soccer practice or meeting with a friend for coffee or answering work emails!

The Annunciation: The Fullness of Time

In 2016, the feast of the Annunciation fell on Good Friday, a rare and special occurrence because the day falls on the true date according to patristic tradition. March 25 was set as the celebration of the conception of Jesus Christ because Christ died on the cross on March 25. As early as the third century, Tertullian and St. Hippolytus of Rome confirmed this date. St. Augustine writes in De Trinitate (iv, 5) that “Jesus died on the cross on March 25, the same day of the year as that on which He was conceived.” It was March 25 which set the date for Christ’s birth, not the other way around, as then-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger noted in The Spirit of the Liturgy.

Additionally, tradition has it that March 25 was also the day of the creation of the world, the day Adam and Eve fell, the day Abraham went to the land of Moriah to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice for the Lord (Genesis 22:1-14), and the day the Israelites passed through the Red Sea to escape Pharaoh (Exodus 14). That these events are believed to have happened on the same date highlight the relationship these events have with one another. Each event can be best understood in relationship to each other for they each reveal God’s plan of salvation.

The conjunction of the Annunciation and Good Friday, however, is particularly fitting for, in a way, we are able to contemplate the fullness of the Incarnation as God sees it, that is, outside of time. In this lens, the words in Revelation about the “Lamb slain from the beginning of the world” makes sense. (Revelation 13:8)

The Annunciation and the Crucifixion are intimately linked and parallel each other. Mary’s ‘yes’ to God makes no sense without the Crucifixion and the Crucifixion would not be possible without Mary’s ‘yes.’ In the Annunciation, Mary’s fiat gives to us our Savior, Jesus Christ. Likewise, immediately preceding Christ’s salvific act on Calvary, Jesus Christ gives Mary as Mother to us. (John 19:26-27)

Beyond the beauty of these parallels, we can come to understand the perfection of God’s timing. The coinciding of these events reveal to us a particular aspect of God and of his will. Likewise, in our daily lives, God’s timing is likewise perfect and reveal to us a particular providence of God in our lives, even if we are unable to see fully its meaning in the present moment. God is working in the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4) in and through our lives as well. Because his timing is perfect, we have cause to trust in his providence. Learning to trust God brings us a lasting joy and peace for we no longer need to fret or worry about the past or the future; rather, we can love fully, knowing that God is in control.

The Annunciation: Our Cause for Joy

The feast of the Annunciation is truly a day of celebration. By taking on our human nature, Christ has redeemed humanity, transforming it back to what it was meant to be, namely, the image of God. The mundaneness of our lives has also been transformed through the Annunciation, allowing us to love and find God in the everyday. Mary is our cause of joy because she was perfectly obedient to the will of God at the Annunciation to the Crucifixion. Through our faithful imitation of Mary, our lives will be filled with perfect joy.

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