ow in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And when the angel had come to her, he said: 'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.' When she had seen him she was troubled at his word, and kept pondering what manner of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her: 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. And behold thou shalt conceive in they womb and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he shall be king over the house of Jacob forever; and of his Kingdom there shall be no end.'
"But Mary said to the angel, 'How shall this happen, since I do not know man?'
"And the angel answered and said to her: 'The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee; and therefore the Holy One to be born shall be called the Son of God...'
"But Mary said: 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to they word.' And the angel departed from her."
This is the narrative of the Gospel according to St. Luke wherein we have the first singing of the Ave Maria by an angel. A virgin takes up the beautiful strains and accepts the summons of grace. An invitation is given through an angel, and Mary is receptive and graciously accedes to God's will.
This story of the Annunciation is related not once by many times. In the life of every man and woman born into the world there is an annunciation of the angel of God. God's grace is poured forth from heaven into every soul. All too often the story is very different from Mary's. Grace is spurned. Souls are not found in the attitude of prayer as was Mary. They are not on their knees. Their hearts are not as was the immaculate heart of Mary, attuned to the loving heart of God. The voice of the angel is drowned out by the noise of the world and the distractions of modern living.
During these Advent days God is sending His angel of grace to drop the seed of inspiration to Christian living into our hearts. We must till the soil by prayer and penance if the seed would take root. We must be on our knees, like Mary, and in the silence of our chamber, in reflection must we be found if the angel is to be heard above the tumultuous riot of noise and distraction which characterizes our day.
The important thing about the annunciation of Mary is that she heard in silence the invitation. She reflected and then accepted. Acceptance of God's inspiration depends upon us. God never, never forces our wills! We are not conditioned by grace. We are free to refuse. Therein is the story of salvation.
God comes into the world as He did at Bethlehem and knocks upon the inn of human hearts. Angels like Gabriel are sent by God as His messengers from heaven. They give us the gravitation of heaven. They set a tugging or pulling of our hearts. They move us to good by gentle reminders and holy inspirations.
But they never force our souls !
With every annunciation, it is sad to say, there is the possibility of a renunciation of grace. Acceptance requires the work of a good life and the practice of virtue. Hence, Advent penance and prayer are a prerequisite if we are to imitate Mary. Angels' songs are sweet to contemplate. Ave Marias are pleasant to hear. But we must do our part and add our share to the angels' task. We are men and women of flesh and blood and have been created just a little less than the angels. We must strive for perfection that we may be in a position like Mary to say: Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum -
"Be it done unto me according to thy word."
During this final week of preparation for Christmas, let our prayer be, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth." The Psalmist reminds us, "If, today, you hear His voice, harden not your heart."
Christmas takes us back in memory to Bethlehem and to Nazareth. The story of Bethlehem is the tale of God's obedience. He was obedient to the will of the Father in assuming human form in order to placate divine justice. Mary continues the procession of divine love, she places her heart at the disposal of God's movements of grace. Without her obedience the angel's song would have been discordant. Without God's great act of humility in coming to Bethlehem, there would have been no Redemption. And without man's submission to God's will in imitation of Mary's response at Nazareth there can be no peace on earth.
Bethlehem or Nazareth is not an incident of history. It is repeated every time God comes to hearts that are opened to receive Him. In this year of grace as we prepare for Christmas we are making history. There is always an annunciation, for God give grace to all creatures. Please and pray God, may there be less renunciations!
O Jesus, Savior of the world, who came to men in the weakness of a Babe, teach us that the greatest lessons are learned by humble souls. When the noice of the world would distract us, teach us to fall upon our knees, like humble shepherds and lowly fishermen. When angels' songs break the silence of our souls, help us to be like Mary, and to say, "Speak, Lord. Thy servant heareth. Be it done as Thou wilt." And lest my aspiration to higher things be but wishful thinking, help me, O Lord, to till the soil of my heart by prayer and penance, that my soul be receptive and the seed take root.