Homily for Dec. 20th, 2016: The Annunciation. Luke 1:26-38.
“Do not be afraid,” the angel Gabriel says to Mary. Girls married very early in those days. Mary may have been only 14 or 15. To be visited by an angel was no ordinary experience. Mary did not know what was happening to her. Of course she was afraid – “greatly troubled,” Luke says. To reassure her, the angel calls Mary “full of grace.” Grace is God’s love, poured into our hearts through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. How wonderful for this young teenager to hear that she was filled with God’s love – the greatest and most powerful love there is.
Only after speaking this reassurance does the angel tell Mary that even before her planned marriage to Joseph she is going to be pregnant. No wonder that she asks, “How can this be?” In response Mary hears the stunning news that the father of her child will not be Joseph. He will be conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. Hence, the angel says, “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
Did Mary understand that? How could she? Only later, decades later, did all this start to make sense to her. At the time she understood only this: that in a little village, where gossip was rife, and everyone knew everybody’s own business, she was going to be an unmarried mother. Without hesitation, however, Mary responds in trusting faith: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
More than thirty years later, the Son whom Mary bore would say, not once but often, what the angel had said to his mother, at the time he was conceived: “Be not afraid.” Jesus spoke those words to his disciples in a boat, when they saw him coming toward them on the water in the midst of a storm (Mt 14:27). He spoke the same words to Peter, James, and John on the mountain at his Transfiguration (Mt 17:7 and parallels). He repeated them to Jairus, the synagogue official who, after asking healing for his little daughter, was told that the girl had already died (Mark 6:50).
The Lord is saying those same words to us, right now: “Be not afraid.” Trust me. I am with you. I shall be with you – always. On this day when the gospel tells us about Mary’s acceptance of the Lord’s call, we ask her to pray for us, that like her, we too may say our yes to God, in good times, but also in bad.