I was reading an article from the periodical, Celebration, the other day, and was astounded with the following tidbit of information that I never knew before, but that perfectly symbolizes the deeper meaning of the Annunciation story. And the tidbit is this: In Fra Angelico’s beautiful painting of the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel fills the left side of the canvas, while Mary takes up the right side. In the space between the Angel and Mary, are the words spoken by the angel and Mary’s response. That doesn’t seem too overwhelming, but what if I told you that Mary’s “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to thy word is written upside-down and backwards! Mind-blowing, isn’t it? In that little detail of the painting, Fra Angelico expresses the world and life altering experience Mary had. And yet, she said Yes. She didn’t ask for further details, she didn’t ask for anything for herself, she didn’t ask how she was to answer the pointed questions regarding her pregnancy, she didn’t ask if she could think about it—she simply and wholeheartedly said yes to all of it, the unknown, the mystery, in which she was being asked to participate.
Of course, we might counter—she was the blessed Mother, she had been born without original sin, of course she said Yes! But the thing to keep in mind was that the young woman facing the angel had her own free will—she was not some kind of mindless, albeit holy robot. The gospel account said the words of the angel troubled her, but she trusted the angel and even more the God who had sent Gabriel to her. Her yes meant that her life in many ways would no longer be her own. Upside-down and backwards became her life, yet she embraced it all. How brave, how humble Mary was and is! We are often told of Mary that she pondered all things in her heart and this was the first of many really big things for her to make peace with. Without her “Yes,” there is no incarnation, without her “yes,” God the son would have to find another way to enter this world to save and transform it. Mary didn’t know at the beginning just what her yes would cost her and she didn’t know what her own part in our salvation would be. That would be revealed in time. The important thing for us to remember on this day is that Mary said yes for all of us. Mary said Come, Lord Jesus for the very first time.
We’ve talked about Advent as being a time of waiting for the Lord who comes to each of us every day. We have in Mary an example of saying yes, of opening herself to the mission God entrusted to her. May we ask Mary this day and every day to intercede for us, so that our Yes may be as unequivocal as hers, even if our lives, too, goes upside down and backwards.
Rev. Phyllis McHugh
St. Thomas More ANCC (Elkins Park, PA)