Today we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception. It’s a great day to ponder Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel, and to her Lord, in the annunciation narrative from Luke.
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And the angel said to her in reply, “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 called holy, the Son of God.”
How can this be? Mary understandably makes the case that she cannot be with child because she has not yet been with a man. What a simple response Gabriel has for her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
I might still have asked, How can this be?
But not Mary. She listens, and listens some more. Finally she hears more amazing news that seems to set her mind at ease. “Elizabeth, your relative has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Then Mary responds, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Today it is most fitting to look at Mary’s response to the will of God. To reflect on what God’s will means for us, in our lives today, as laity, as religious, as the ordained. Because God calls each of us—men and women, young and old, saints and sinners.
How can this be? you might ask. God calls me? Really? Yes … Nothing is impossible with God.
The painting of the Annunciation by Henry Tanner captures the expression of a typical 13-year-old girl being asked to do something way outside her comfort zone. What me? Really? Are you kidding?
Mary’s act of faith is then all the more extraordinary, beyond compare really. “Be it done to me according to your word.”
Mary is our advocate, our helper, and our benefactress not only in the highs and lows of our relationships and family life but also in matters of charism and call, and ultimately, our very salvation.
Who better to relate to our unbelief at God’s call than Mary who was told by an angel that she was called to bear the Son of the Most High?
How can it be? God didn’t call Mary to a convent or cloistered life. God called her to the messy stuff of human birthing and child-rearing in the midst of family, community, and temple life. So too are we called – called to be the light of God’s love and grace, the symbol of communion and unity in a messy world too often plagued with darkness and alienation.
We too, the People of God in the modern world, are called to surrender our lives and our wills to God just as completely and profoundly as the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ponder it in your heart.
How can this be?
Nothing is impossible for God.