Homily for the Solemnity of the Annunciation

Annunciation of the Lord 

Glenstal Thursday 25th March 2021 

Isaiah 7:10-14.8:10; Heb 10:4-10; Lk 1:26-38

Very often, the reality of a mystery we celebrate can be summed up in a few pregnant phrases. The mystery we are celebrating today, the Annunciation, is summed up in the Gospel acclamation we have just heard:

The Word was made flesh,

He lived among us,

And we saw his glory.

At various times in the history of the people of Israel, the Lord hints, as it were, that this people should be enquiring a little more about what exactly they think they are waiting for. A Messiah, yes, but what kind of Messiah? They have the Law, yes, but what does the observance of its many rules, ritual sacrifices and directions governing everyday trivia, actually achieve? What does this observance make real? What does this observance expect beyond the simple keeping of the rules? Not without some frustration, not without some impatience, the Prophet Isaiah cuts through Ahaz’s effective complacency, his apparent satisfaction with things as they are, and tells him that the Lord himself will burst into this situation and give a mind- and world-changing sign: “the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel, a name which means, ‘God-is-with-us’”.

At one level – that is, as a piece of literature – the Gospel-account of how God gave this promised sign is almost like a tale one might read to a child. Such tales when read to the right audience – that is, to one with the right dispositions of mind and heart – are completely convincing, completely true, even if what they describe might be considered by the learned and informed, as pure fiction, scientifically or physiologically impossible.

But it is precisely in this shattering of the boundaries of what we might regard as possible, or even potentially true, that God fulfils the promise foretold by Isaiah. It is in the very domesticity of the Annunciation scene that God chooses to situate the fulcrum of history. One might even say that God chooses to change the universe in a kitchen.

And what a change. The people of the Old Covenant were constantly aware that their worship, even if prescribed by the Law, was always provisional. Even if some made the Law and its observances in the matter of animal sacrifices a thing in itself and if some saw, first the Tent of Meeting and later, the Temple of Jerusalem, as actual dwelling-places of God, the expectation, the waiting for a fulfilment in and by something or someone more real, never evaporated. Views, expectations of what that something or someone might be or mean varied over the centuries. For some it would even be a conquering hero ruling over a militarily successful territory, indeed an empire. 

We humans long for the concrete, the touchable, the visible. We want to be in time but also to go beyond time. We suspect, we know, or at least we long for ourselves to be made for eternity.

And today’s second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that we have got just that. It understands the yearnings, of the Law and the reasons for its sacrifices and rules, – it even understands the Law’s desire to obey the will of God – but states quite clearly that these sacrifices and rules have now been replaced by another sacrifice and another way of obeying God’s will.

Obeying God’s will: the acute listener will have recognised the echo of the second reading in the gospel-passage. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews has Christ saying, ‘God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.’ Christ’s presence, readiness to obey and to become the new sacrifice, the new Temple, the new and definitive way of human relationship with God…

And Mary made all this possible, by echoing her Son’s words, in time indeed, but with a time-shattering affirmative: ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me.’  

The Word was made flesh,

He lived among us,

And we saw his glory.

Fr Henry O’Shea OSB

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