We celebrate the feast of the Annunciation and thus the beginning of Mary's pregnancy on March 25, nine months before Christmas, so it may surprise you that in December we return three times to the various annunciations of Jesus' birth.
And it is important to note that all these annunciations were also moments of vocation. God announces his plan, and this has implications for the recipient personally, their role in his plan.
For instance, on today's feast of the Immaculate Conception, on which — by the way — we celebrate Mary's conception by her mother, we have the first half of Luke's version of the annunciation of Jesus' conception by Mary. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and gives us the first sentence of what is now the Hail Mary in the words he uses to invite her to accept her God-given vocation, her role in God's plan: "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” a greeting which we now repeat as the first sentence of the most widely prayed prayer in the world, to which Mary responds: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word" — thereby opening her heart to welcome God's call in her life, her vocation, even though she really didn't know what she was getting into.
Neither do we when we first begin to hear God's call. But Mary didn't have to know everything; she was a woman of faith. For a faithful servant, the answer when God calls is always "Yes!"
Four days from now is Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Gospel we read that day is the story of the visitation of Mary to her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth, which is really just the second half of Luke's account of the annunciation, making it a double annunciation.
The angel Gabriel had announced two things that day in Nazareth: not only that Mary would conceive the Savior but also that her kinswoman Elizabeth had conceived a son in her old age. So, Mary travels from Galilee to Judea to visit Elizabeth, and what is the first thing that happens when she arrives there? Another annunciation. A reaffirmation of Mary's vocation to be the mother of the Savior.
And just like with them, God uses all kinds of people to reaffirm our vocation too, once we take the big step ourselves like Mary did of opening our hearts to welcome God's call in our lives. Here John the Baptist leapt for joy in his mother's womb and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, gives us the second sentence of the Hail Mary as she affirms that what Gabriel had said is true: "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb."
And how does Mary respond to that? With the words that reaffirm her "Yes" to God's will for her life, words that we will one day pray in that other great Marian prayer, the Magnificat: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior"...and so on.
Then to complete the picture, the New Testament also gives us Matthew's account of an annunciation not to Mary but rather to Joseph. The angel of the Lord told Joseph in a dream that Mary's child was conceived through the Holy Spirit, and he should open his heart to receive her as his wife, because God had chosen him to be the foster father of the Savior, whom through God's intervention Mary was carrying in her womb. This was to be his vocation.
What do all these annunciations mean to us who have gathered to celebrate this feast of the Blessed Mother? Two things: 1) God continues to intervene in human history to save us, and 2) like Mary and Joseph, each one of us has a God-given role to play in his ongoing work of salvation too.
But for that salvation to become ours, to make a difference in our life and in the lives of others, we have to open our hearts like Mary and Joseph did, even though they really didn’t know where it was all going to lead. They said in effect: "Yes Lord, whatever you want, I will do!"
And so now, how about you? You too can make a difference; you too have a role in God’s plan; you too can grow to be the kind of person that God calls you to be, but it will only happen once you open your heart like Mary and Joseph did, to welcome his call in your life.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Dec. 8.
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