In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
excerpt from: Annunciation by Denise Levertov
Hail, space for the uncontained God
From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece VIc
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
...Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
a simple, 'How can this be?'
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply...
I have always been struck by the matter-of-fact practicality of the voices of women in the Bible. When Jesus arrives at the tomb of his friend Lazarus and starts talking about letting him out, it is the women who remind him that the body might, you know, have an odor. In this passage Mary, who Denise Levertov seems to see as merely calm rather than meek or submissive, getting right to the heart of the matter. Told of a miracle, she requests information about the logistics. "How can this be, since I have no husband?" These Biblical women, with their intimate knowledge of the workings of bodies in both life and death remind me to keep my feet on the ground, even (or especially) when I'm tempted to get carried away by what I think are God's plans. Like the angel Gabriel, who doesn't shame Mary for asking a question, but instead answers as straight-forwardly as he knows how, more and more I sense from God a willingness to be in dialogue about everything - not just the big stuff or the spiritual stuff, but the everyday details of life. Early in my faith development, I told some friends that I "believe in God and everything, but I'm not the kind of person who would ask God whether I should have tuna for lunch." Lately I find to my surprise that I have actually become just that kind of person. When I remember to do it - consult God about the material as well as the spiritual, pray about the logistics of a plan as well as the outcome, even ask what I should have for lunch - I find the days flow much more smoothly.
For further reflection
The angel advises Mary not to be afraid. What do you think were some of Mary's feelings in her conversation with the angel? How have you felt when you've become aware of a new call from God?
Imagine beginning each day with the prayer "let it be with me according to your word." How might such a prayer alter the rhythm of your days?
After Mary hears the news from the angel, she goes to be with Elizabeth, an older cousin. Can you think of other women who have mentored or sheltered you?
What is God calling you to give birth to in this advent season?
Mothering God, Source of all that is, embolden me to welcome your angels at my windowsill, however surprising their news. Give me the courage to ask questions, the wisdom to follow in your way and the tenderness to receive the care of others. Amen.
We hope the reflections on this retreat day will enrich your Advent experience. You may write your thoughts here in the comments, or if you write something on your own blog, leave a comment (with a link if you can) inviting us to visit you. Or, if it suits you better, keep these words in your heart, and we will trust that God works in many ways in all of us.
The Annunciation, 1898, by Henry Ossawa Tanner
Annunciation by Botticelli
detail from Annunciation, 1527-28 by Jacopo Pontormo
Annunciation by Denise Levertov