“When the angel came to her, he said, ‘Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you.’” (Luke 1:28, CEB)
Although traditions debate whether the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary at her house or at the spring of Nazareth, each Advent season we journey back to this moment. This event is so iconic that it has been given its own name, “The Annunciation,” or announcement. It is a pivotal moment of salvation history. What will Mary say? Why has the angel come to her? Who will this child become?
We know the story. Mary says yes. Gabriel announces that she will bear a son, named Jesus, and that the power of the Holy Spirit will care for her through the perilous journey. This story, retold in Luke 1:26-38 has inspired countless works of art and has been the reason for the construction of enormous basilicas over sites believed to be Mary’s home as well as the ancient spring of Nazareth. The power of the story even inspired the early church to name Mary, the Theotokos, or God-bearer, which subsequently led to great theological debate across the centuries.
This story pulses with life giving power. Each Christmas we look at Mary with wonder. We scratch our heads alongside her as we ask, “How can this be?” We hold tenderly the angel’s words in our hearts, “Nothing is impossible for God.”
Yet sometimes because of the story’s familiarity, it is all too easy to rush past this announcement in our race toward Christmas Day. Sometimes, we are too quick to place this story within the realm of historical reenactment, limiting the power of Gabriel’s words to a single event that happened over two thousand years ago. We reduce the announcement simply to a feeling of sentimental piety that says, “I’m so glad that Mary said yes so that Jesus could be born to save me.”
The good news is that God is not so easily contained. The Annunciation persists because it refuses to be kept in a box as a set of holiday figurines.
Meister Eckhart, a 13th Century Dominican mystic, once preached a Christmas sermon to unleash the power of the Annunciation. He wrote,
“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.”
Or more simply put, “We are all meant to be mothers of God… for God is always needing to be born.” (Meister Eckhart, 13th Century)
The radical nature of the Annunciation is that God comes to each of us every day, speaking words similar to Gabriel, “Rejoice! God is with you!” Each Advent season, God comes and asks each one of us to become a Godbearer, for God is always needing to be born. Will you have the courage to say yes like Mary? Will you give your own blood, sweat, and tears to take the journey of a Godbearer this Advent? Are you ready to let the Holy Spirit overshadow you, and become receptive enough to let God dwell within you? God has called each of us to be Godbearers, to bring the divine to life in our own particular ways. Do not be afraid, for nothing is impossible with God.