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Mary and the Incarnation: Archetype of our Journey with God

Marie Azzarello, CND

Read Luke 1:26-38

St. Maximus the Confessor wrote, “The Incarnation is the model of what God wants to achieve in us. By the power of the Spirit, Christ is always born mysteriously and willingly, becoming incarnate in us.[i]  Being steeped in this mystery is an invitation to reflect on the Annunciation in Luke’s gospel. In so doing, may we become more conscious of this wondrous mystery unfolding within us.

It is important to note from the outset, that the text of the Annunciation does not say that Mary had a vision of an angel, despite artistic depictions of this event through the centuries. Rather, the text focuses on the message she hears and her response to it. How the angel’s assurance entered her consciousness, that she would experience the creative power of the Spirit, we do not know. What we do know is that Mary’s “Yes” to conceive Jesus – to be a vehicle for God’s great love for all humankind and the whole of creation – was a free, unconditional response given in faith. God initiates the encounter and Mary touches deeply God’s love for her. Love received calls for love to be given in return.

“Greetings favoured one”, “the Lord is with you” ̶  the first words addressed to Mary at the Annunciation ̶ reveal the depths of communion with God offered to every person. Thus God’s message to Mary, You are my favoured one, in whom I am present,’ is also addressed to us.

  • What feelings does this message stir in you/me?
  • Does it awaken an awareness in you/me that our fundamental identity rests in our being ‘God’s favored ones in whom God is present’ not in how you/I perceive ourselves or others perceive us?
  • How can being ‘God’s favored one’ influence how you/I live our lives in the ‘good and difficult seasons’ of life?

Let us pause for a moment:

  • What do you/I want to say to God at this time?

Mary’s initial perplexity and confusion as to the meaning of the message is not surprising. God’s messenger invites her to ‘not be afraid, for she has found favour with God. In addition, Mary is told that ‘she will conceive, bear a son and name him Jesus’. (Lk. 1:30) Wondering how this could happen since she is a virgin, Mary receives a surprising response.  ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will be overshadowed by God’. (Lk. 1:35). 

It is important to note that the Greek word used for ‘overshadow’ is the same word used in Genesis to describe the spirit hovering over the waters of creation (Gen 1:2). Inherent in the term is a sense of protection and empowerment. A time to pause.

  • Have you/I ever received a call to mission that stretches you/I beyond your/my comfort level; one for which you/I might feel unprepared?

Before any uncertainty, hesitancy, fear, what inner assurance enabled you/me to speak our truth, say ‘yes’ and allow a new way of being to unfold?

  • Was there a moment when you/I had to say ‘no’? How did it feel? How was our truth received?
  • Identify ways in which you/I have experienced a ‘sense of protection’, ‘empowerment’ in our life.

Mary has heard that she is favoured because God is with her (Lk 1: 28).[ii] Commentaries suggest that Mary being identified as ‘favoured one’ indicates her holiness for she has been transformed by God’s grace. The spirit of holiness then is already present in Mary at the very centre of her being. God’s invitation to Mary allows this inner gift to find expression in her conceiving, birthing Jesus, becoming his mother.

Ironically, the only time you find the Greek verb form used for ‘favoured one’ again is in the Letter to the Ephesians. The letter notes that, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, we have been transformed by the wonderful grace of God bestowed on us in Christ to be holy and blameless in love (Eph 1:1-6).

While not forgetting her unique vocation, can we say that what has happened to her has taken place in us also? This seems to be confirmed above in the Letter to the Ephesians. Holiness then, as in Mary, already exists in us at the centre of our being. We too are invited to allow this inner gift to find expression by who we are and what we do – living in right relationship with God, self, neighbor, creation. As Gilles Mongeau, S.J. notes ‘it is a fire of love that burns away obstacle that prevent this from happening.[iii]

  • What difference would it make to live mindful that ‘holiness’ is not a goal to be achieved but a fire of love, an inner gift that find its outward expression in who we are and in what we do?

It is important to consider Mary’s virginity before moving on. Donald Senior notes that the Annunciation in Luke’s gospel (as in Matthew’s) is neither an endorsement of virginity nor a disparagement of marriage. Rather it shows that Mary, like the great saints of Israel, opened her empty arms to God and was willing to be filled with God’s Spirit.[iv]  With that power, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, is conceived and born into the world.

The emphasis then is on Mary’s virginal heart, open and unencumbered by all kinds of distractions, a heart that is receptive, able to listen and to respond to God’s word with one’s whole being.

Mindful of Mary’s virginal heart, we are invited to enter our own inner space and there be attentive to God’s presence desiring to fashion us, little by little, into the image of Jesus and to share this image with all whom we encounter.  

Pregnancy provides a wonderful image for this process. It suggests that after God’s word is heard, a time of gestation, or patience is needed for it to come to full life in us and be ready for birth, or actualization, in our daily behaviour.

Meister Eckhart reminds us that “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”[v] Perhaps this is a time to pause and ask ourselves:

  • What do we give birth to each day?
  • Do compassion, nurturing, and non-violence, or, aggression, control, and dominance affect our relationship with God, self, others, creation?

The more we ponder the Annunciation to Mary in relation to our own lives, the more we realize  that like Mary’s ‘Yes’, decisions involving life choices are a leap into the unknown, a leap of faith. Once the decision is made, other factors enter into the equation, affecting our ability to control its direction. Our “yes” to any commitment is lived in the present moment only.

Mary shows us also that “receptiveness, openness, attentive listening are characteristics that summon us to live life in love – a love that overflows more and more with knowledge and full insight so that we can determine the best choice for the moment (Phil 1:8-10).

Mary’s openness to the Spirit led to Jesus’ conception. It also led her to accept the extraordinary message of her cousin, Elizabeth’s pregnancy as a final assurance of God’s power. Then, as now, the message is the same: “nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37).

  • How conscious are we that opening our minds and hearts to life as it unfolds each day is our ongoing ‘Yes’ to God?

Mary, in her ‘Yes’ to God, adds ‘Here I am, the Servant of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word’ (Lk 1.38) For Luke, Mary is a woman who from the moment of Jesus’ conception fulfils the gospel description of a true disciple – one who hears the word of God and acts on it (Lk 8:21). For Luke she is the first disciple.

Understanding the meaning of ‘servant of the Lord’ is important. Johann Roten, SM notes that the expression is based on a First Testament meaning of “servant,” which “exemplifies a love-relationship in which the human person has been chosen, called and formed in the love of God, only to answer with the affection of total dedication.”[vi] Mary’s description of herself as servant of the Lord, shows us again the depth of a love relationship with God that is possible when we say yes to God’s call to pattern our lives on the mission of Jesus, the Servant of God himself.”[vii] Every disciple’s call then is “to let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5; Eph 3:14-21).

The expression connects us also to the first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” In biblical theology, to be poor is to be with God, to make one’s heart available, and to be passionately attentive to the presence of God within us, in our neighbour, and in all creation – the only images of God we see. This does not imply passive obedience to authority, domination of our lives by any person, or emotional passivity to the daily events that touch us. Rather, it is a call to desire inner freedom to hear, to listen attentively, and to be receptive to others as we search for directions for our lives.

In the Annunciation, Mary stands as a woman whose fidelity to the Spirit led her to move out of the security of her tradition and cross the threshold into an unknown future. Her example invites us to seek the Spirit’s guidance continually, assured that God always respects our human freedom.

  • What does being a ‘servant of the Lord’ who seeks out the Spirit’s guidance continually mean for you/me?

Mary, Servant of the Lord, influenced by the Spirit, hastens to visit Elizabeth. Luke is showing that God’s visitation to Mary and God’s word planted within her womb are experiences to be communicated and shared with another person. In the Visitation, Women of faith, Hope and vision meet. We can explore the depth of their encounter in another reflection.

Finally let us ponder two other expressions in the Annunciation narrative: “Be not afraid’ and ‘Nothing is impossible with God. The former appears approximately three hundred times in the scriptures; the latter in a variety of expressions that all point to the same reality. Can we imagine how these words must have resonated in her being on Mary’s journey to Elizabeth and throughout her life’s journey?

  • In what way has God’s assurance ‘do not be afraid’ and ‘nothing is impossible with God’ helped you/me in the difficult moments in our lives.

Luke mentions also that after the shepherds’ visit and the finding of Jesus in the temple, that Mary pondered and treasured all these things in her heart (Lk 2:19, 51). To ponder in one’s heart implies that a person is trying to comprehend the hidden meaning these events hold.

  • How often have you/I pondered a happening in your/my life over and over again, seeking to understand its meaning?
  • How is doing so related to faith in God?

As this reflection draws to a close, may we be mindful that Mary, in conceiving and bringing Jesus into life, conceived the whole Christ, the Cosmic Christ in whom all was created and who holds all things together (Col 1: 16, 17).


[i] St. Maximus the Confessor, “Mystical Conception, The Annunciation to the Theotokos”. The Word Magazine (March 25, 2005) www.antiochan.org/wordarticles. Accessed, June, 2010.

[ii] Years later, Jesus, her son, will hear a similar message after his baptism in the Jordan, “  This is my    beloved son, with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3: 22), grounding his identity in God, his Father.

[iii] See Introduction to the Sunday Readings, Gilles Mongeau, S.J. Living With Christ, February, 2020.

[iv] Donald Senior, C.P. “New Testament Images of Mary”, The Bible Today (May, 1986): 147, 148. Before Vatican II, the Catholic Church’s emphasis on Mary’s bodily virginity supported by a false body/spirit dualism favored the superiority of virginity over marriage. Rather, the message of the Annunciation is a comment on the paradoxical ways of God’s salvation.

[v] Matthew Fox, Meditations With Meister Eckhart, Bear and Company, Inc., Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1983, p. 74.

[vi] Johann G. Roten, S.M. “Memory and Mission, A Theological Reflection on Mary in the Paschal Mysteries.” Marian Studies (1991):132.

[vii] Ibid, p. 130.

 

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