Annunciations form the basis of readings at Mass for the first days of this week of Advent. And, like many realities in Scripture, they tend to come in threes (three temptations in the desert, three denials by Peter, three friends climbing Mount Tabor, a Holy Family made up of three, a Holy Trinity).
Beginning on Sunday, we encounter St Joseph having a dream in which an angel announces the news about his betrothed’s pregnancy and requiring him to go ahead with the marriage, even though the law requires that he divorce Mary (Matt 1:18-24).
This was followed on Monday, with an angel interrupting Zechariah in the Temple with an announcement to do with the conception of the prophet John (Lk 1:5-25). Then, we come to a climax with the most famous annunciation of all, that of Gabriel to Mary (Lk 1:26-38).
Each episode is a call to trust in God, to lead them through impossible, or at least extremely challenging, situations, to fulfil God’s plan. Two of the people involved, Joseph and Mary, pass the test with flying colours. The Gospel of Matthew speaks of Joseph waking from sleep and immediately taking Mary home as his wife, while in Luke’s Gospel, Mary accepts the message and immediately, with haste, travelling to visit her cousin Elizabeth.
Zechariah, in contrast, fails the test of trust, returning home under a cloud, struck dumb until the angel’s message is fulfilled. The message is clear: when God calls, don’t put off your yes, but act at once, confident of God’s accompaniment.
Wednesday’s Gospel text moves on to the account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, thus completing the symmetry of two husbands and wives called to do God’s will by accepting the gift of children, John, and Jesus, who will be the key instruments in bringing about the Kingdom of God in the New Testament. However, if we view the Visitation account as a continuation of the Annunciation to Mary, rather than as some new theme, then we may see this part of the Gospel as made up of three Annunciations in turn: Gabriel to Mary, Mary to Elizabeth and Elizabeth to Mary.
Mary announces to her cousin the news of her pregnancy and its meaning, then Elizabeth in turn announces to her the witness of the baby leaping in her womb, inspired by the Holy Spirit. The message I take from this structure is that believers must, like Mary and Elizabeth, pass on the angelic messages to others and becoming angelic in the process.
Humbler versions of such annunciations take place every day, even here in Multy, where we have been busy again providing religious Christmas cards to our many visitors, who travel from far and wide, year in and year out. The religious imagery of the Madonna and Child or the Holy Family on their way to Bethlehem will hopefully stimulate the faith of those who receive them to sense the real meaning of this Holy Season.
The sending and reception of these cards may also remind us of friends and acquaintances we have forgotten in the past year and with whom we might renew some contact.
On Tuesday morning we had a visit from seventy-two secondary school students from Mullingar, our local town. They were introduced to the history of the Church and friary by Fr John, while I spoke of the present mission of our community at various levels. I hope that, in some small way, we were announcing the good news to these young men and sowing a seed in their hearts that will flourish in time to come.
May I wish all who read this reflection and all those availing of our webcam service a most reverent, holy, and blessed Christmas.