Homily for the Solemnity of the Annunciation, 9 April 2018, Luke 1:26-38

This year with an early Easter the Feast of the Annunciation has been transferred, and we find ourselves celebrating it in Eastertide. So we approach the mystery of today’s Feast as if shining with Easter light. We consider today how the Eternal Word of God took flesh from his Virgin Mother, in order to be able to die in that flesh, then in the same flesh to rise again, so that we might have life in him.

There’s a certain parallel between the Angel of the Annunciation and the Angel of the Resurrection. Both Angels convey the reassurance: Do not be afraid (Lk 1:31; Mt 28:5, cf. Mk 16:6). Both have a message of joy beyond measure; joy stemming from a miraculous intervention of God; joy that must spread from apparently insignificant beginnings to reach the whole human race and all history and into eternity. As events, the Incarnation and the Resurrection were both entirely hidden. Although beyond the power of nature, both are rationally believable, supported as they are by reliable and credible testimony. Yet also both events can be received only by faith. They lie in principle outside the scope of scientific demonstration.

There are also some notable differences. The Angel of the Annunciation proclaims a future event. At the consent of Mary, the Lord will be present in a wholly new way. The Angel of the Resurrection, by contrast, proclaims a past event, and precisely an absence, dependent now on nothing and no one. He is not here! Why look for him among the dead? He has risen! (cf. Mt 28:6; Mk 16:6; Lk 24:5-6).

Hail Mary! began the Angel of the Annunciation. At least, that’s how our older versions translate his greeting. But what did he actually say, and what exactly did he mean by it? Our Lady at least was not quite sure of the answer to that, and neither have been the scholars and commentators from that day to this. Because we would expect the Angel to have spoken to Mary in Hebrew or Aramaic, with the conventional Jewish greeting “Shalom: Peace be with you”. Jesus says that to the disciples on Easter Day, according to the accounts of St. Luke and St. John. There his words are certainly not merely conventional, but loaded and even over-loaded with significance. They are a gift, a grace, a command; and they serve to announce a new reality.

But St. Luke wrote in Greek, and the Greek word he gives to the Angel is the conventional Greek greeting: χαιρε, which you could translate Hello, Good morning, How do you do? Literally though this word means “Rejoice”. And it shares the same root as the word χαρις which follows it in compound form, meaning “grace” or “favour”. We can assume then that, like the Easter greeting of Jesus, these words really do bear all the meaning they could have, and more. Especially so, when we realise that the words of the Angel echo Messianic texts in Old Testament prophecy. Zephaniah, especially, calls on the Daughter of Zion to rejoice, for the Lord, the King is with her; she has nothing to fear (cf. Zeph 3:14; also Zech 9:9; Joel 2:21). The phrase, “The Lord is with you”, or the “Lord be with you”, could also be merely a conventional greeting. The Angel says it to Gideon at his secret threshing floor in the Book of Judges (6:11), and Boaz repeats it to his reapers in the book of Ruth (2:4). But again we must assume that the Angel, and following him St. Luke, deliberately echo here the text in Isaiah, on which St. Matthew dwells in his Gospel: The virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, which means The Lord is with us (Is 7:14; Mt 1:23).

Rejoice, then Mary, as our version has it: you have won God’s favour! Mother of the Messiah, Mother of God, full of grace, immaculately conceived: the Lord will carry out his purposes in you, through you. Your Son Jesus will be great. Great? How can he be great, if he is born of a nobody, in a place no one has ever heard of? Even more, how can he be great if he is to land up at last on the public gibbet of a criminal, having alienated all the religious authorities of Israel, and incidentally lost all his own disciples? Ah but the greatness of which the Angel speaks is a divine title. Great is the Lord, sings the Psalm, and greatly to be praised (Ps 47/48:2). The Angel goes on: He will be called Son of the Most High. God himself will acknowledge the Sonship of Jesus at his baptism and transfiguration, and later the Sanhedrin will condemn him for acknowledging it of himself. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. That is: Jesus will possess what was promised to David, yet which never actually took place. His reign will be over God’s own Kingdom. In principle no one will be excluded from it, though a special preference will be given to the poor and the afflicted. His throne of majesty will be not on earth but in heaven; won as the trophy of victory. And his reign will have no end: no end, because the Church will endure to the end of time; then finally no end because it will have its completion in eternity.

By the mysteries of both the Incarnation and the Resurrection we know that we have immediate access to God at all times, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. Both mysteries teach us not to be afraid: that in fact we need have no fear of anything whatever. The Kingdom of Jesus is established and secure forever. We who by baptism already have our place in this Kingdom, sing forever both Magnificat and Alleluia!

Yesterday I asked the question: how are we to rejoice in Eastertide? How are we to enter into the joy of Christ? Today we are strongly reminded of a most wonderful and certain answer to that. We can do so, we should do so in union with Mary Immaculate: through her, and with her and in her. With Mary we cry: Let your will be done in me! That is: may your work of redemption be accomplished in me! May your risen life truly be my life! May I truly live by the faith and hope so perfectly practised by our Blessed Lady while on earth; and may I come at last to share her glory in heaven.