I’ve often admired the stained glass window depicting the Annunciation that looks down on the sanctuary in my local cathedral. We see the young woman Mary, kneeling on the floor and surrounded by angels, while God the father looks down on her from above, sending forth a beam on which rests the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove. God the Son is there, too, although we don’t see him, a human embryo in Mary’s womb, the Omnipotent Divine wrapped in mortal human flesh. That’s how we encounter Jesus in the Gospels: the Eternal Word in human disguise; that’s how we receive him in the Holy Eucharist: the Second Person of the Trinity in the form of simple bread. It’s a marvelous image to contemplate as we approach the Altar of the Lord to receive Holy Communion.
Tomorrow, of course, is the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrated nine months before the Nativity of The Lord at Christmas. I’ve often thought that, the current vogue for atheists and atheism notwithstanding, it’s not really that hard to believe in God. What is difficult, very difficult in fact, is to believe that the Uncreated Creator of all Time and Space is the least bit interested in beings as small, short-lived, and insignificant as we appear to be in the vast sweep of the Universe. That he should become a little human baby just so that he could suffer with us and die for us, well, this saying is hard; who could accept it (see John 6:60)? And that’s not all: the Omnipotent God sought the consent of one little maiden in a small town in an insignificant corner of the world in order to do it. Not the least of the reasons why we honor Mary is her willingness to put her very self in God’s hands: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Mary’s willingness to give up herself to be a part, perhaps the greatest (solely) human actor in God’s Great Drama of Salvation is the big picture; as is often the way, there’s a little picture, too, a way in which the Annunciation is reflected in our own lives. God has a plan for all of us. He imposes nothing, to paraphrase John Paul the Great, but always proposes (Redemptoris Missio). He is constantly asking us to allow him in, to consent to serve him in ways big and small. “Today if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts” is one of the Lent antiphons in the Liturgy of the Hours. We all hear the voice of the Lord at some point, if we’re listening; let us all not harden our hearts, but rather let it be done to us according to his word.