The Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord: Isaiah 7:10-14, 8:10, Hebrews 10:4-10, Luke 1:26-38.
Today’s readings should be very familiar to us. We hear God promise the virgin birth and the name Emmanuel, we hear St. Paul tell us that “the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all” has taken the place of all the lesser animal sacrifices done in the Jewish tradition, and we hear St. Luke’s amazing account of Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will give birth to the Messiah. I’ve already written three reflections on this gospel reading: Our Blessed Kecharitōmenē, Our New Eve, and A House for Our Lord to Dwell. Mary is indeed full of grace and the worthy Ark of the New Covenant.
I don’t know that I have much to add to the volumes that have been written on this fundamental aspect of our faith, and I’ll keep this reflection short. One thing jumped out at me as I studied a few different commentaries and books on this subject: Mary actively participates in the same creative act that God undertakes at the beginning of time. The Incarnation is another Creation.
This might seem terribly obvious, and if so, my apologies. But consider how Fr. Jean Corbon writes about this moment in the Annunciation: “the humble maidservant can respond to the message with all her being and in the very words that her Lord used at the beginning of time: ‘Let it be!’ (Lk 1:38 and Gen 1:3)” (Wellspring of Worship, 37). What Corbon references here is the Greek verb γίνομαι (gínomai), which is used in Genesis when God says “Let there be light” and there was light. The Greek translation of the Hebrew is theos gínomai phōs kai gínomai phōs. A more literal translation is “God said “become” light and light came into being. The verb gínomai is roughly translated as our verb “to be,” but it’s more properly “to become” or “to receive being.” It’s fairly complex, which is why Thayer’s Greek Lexicon spends over 2,460 words to describe it in their entry for gínomai. But suffice it to say that when we read Mary’s great “Yes” to God at the Annunciation, we encounter something special when the Greek says, genoito moi, which our Lectionary translates as “May it be done to me,” although she is really uttering a different voicing of the same gínomai uttered by God at the Creation of the world. This is why the King James Version of the Bible has it translated as “Be it to me,” which, for all its awkwardness, gets to the point of what Corbon is saying: humble Mary uses the very words her Lord used at the beginning of time, “Let it be.”
Why is this important? Well, it’s difficult to overstress that a new creation is happening as God joins Himself to humanity. This perfect merging of the divine essence with the human mind and body is something never accomplished before or since, and it has ramifications for history both before and since. As Corbon writes, “The age of the mysterious ‘synergy’ between the river of life and the world of the flesh has begun; in the new creation every conception will henceforth be virginal … After the synergy of this first Pentecost, everything is unmerited and personal, everything a manifestation of the Spirit’s power … Henceforth, everything fleshly is permeated by the energy of love” (38). There is a lot to meditate upon in these words. The cornerstone of our faith is who Jesus is. He is the Son of God, one with God, and yet also a man. He is immortal, but took on mortality so He could die and rise (for immortality cannot die), thus transforming humanity because of this experience. Without this belief in the divine nature of Jesus, begotten once of the Father in spirit and again by the Spirit in humanity, we do not have the Christian faith and humanity has not been transformed. The Annunciation as a moment of new creation is absolutely indispensable to our faith.
In the previous quote from Corbon, he references the “first Pentecost,” that is, the first time the Spirit is poured out, emptied out in a kenosis, upon humanity. I am struck by how powerfully Corbon describes the action of the Spirit in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. He writes:
Mary says “Yes”, and the Spirit who unites the Word and the Yes, divine energy and human energy, gift and acceptance, comes upon her. The Spirit of the Father is the one who crafts this Covenant, fulfilled at last, between the Word and flesh. In the first creation all that exists is “called from nothingness to being”. In the new creation that is beginning here, he who is eternally begotten of the Father is fashioned out of living earth, namely, the entire being of his mother … He who is to be born of the Daughter of Zion has been conceived not by any “will of man” or by any set of determining causes but by the power of the Holy Spirit (37-38).
I appreciate both his insistence upon the Holy Spirit as the one who is at work in Mary (as the angel Gabriel explains, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”) as well as the difference between the first creation and this new creation. God creates from nothing in the first creation. It is his power alone that makes gínomai happen. But in this second creation, He has a raw material to join to His gínomai — a raw material that is made from dust but is illuminated with the breath of the Spirit already. Like an errant breeze corralled back into the tornado of God’s Spirit, humanity is joined again to its source and is able to utter a gínomai alongside her maker. It is still God’s power alone through the Holy Spirit that makes the Incarnation happen, but Mary is able to participate in a way that no part of Creation has ever been able to participate. Her free will, granted by God and guided by holiness, forms the participatory force in this new creation; likewise, her body provides the participatory substance for this new creation.
Nothing can overshadow the great outpouring of love in the form of the Holy Spirit at the Incarnation — that God should stoop so low as to become one of us out of love for us is simply staggering. This is hinted at by Gabriel: “[He] will overshadow you.” But let us also recognize that Mary performs her own kenosis of spirit by yielding completely to the will of the Father. It is this synergy, this union of love pouring out one for the other in both directions, that enables the new creation to happen. This has become humanity’s model for unity with God; something we can all recognize, strive for, and pray to the Virgin to help us achieve.
Let no one pass off the Annunciation as an unnecessary Christian myth. This deepest of encounters between God and humanity is the bedrock of our salvation!