The Annunciation

The Future's Bright, The Future's Stefan!

We really do have some amazing young men training for the priesthood at the moment. I have a friend, Stefan, an erudite soul, who is studying for the priesthood at the Venerable English College in Rome. He is currently on a placement in a parish and, as a seminarian, has to offer reflections at Mass from time to time. This is his reflection on the Annunciation, which he gave on Monday:

Today we can be said to be marking the beginning of the Christian era. It is the moment at which the Divine nature joins itself to human nature. It is the moment which sets in motion the final chapter of our salvation history. It is, in no uncertain terms, the defining moment for all of us here. A lot of people might readily accept the existence of someone called Jesus, who was crucified by the Romans around the year 30 AD. The problem for them however, would lie in today’s feast: namely our belief that Jesus was conceived in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, that God intervened in the natural order of things to make Himself one of us. It is the sign that the prophet Isaiah was promised: “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel, that is ‘God is with us.’”

This event is the link between the Old and New Testaments. It brings the Old Testament to a close by fulfilling its prophecies, which promised a saviour who would renew the relationship between God and men. It ushers in the era of the God-man, as witnessed by the New Testament. It is therefore an event which requires us to look beyond it, to both the before and the after, in order to answer the question “why?”, because its rationale is to be found woven within the entirety of Scripture. Today’s feast challenges us then to deepen our knowledge and understanding of Scripture, else we will not be able to present a reasoned explanation for it to today’s society.

If we move our focus to the event in itself, what can it practically teach us today? I think a fairly relevant point to consider is the context in which God chooses to become man. Mary was an unmarried woman. She was, however, betrothed to Joseph. Presumably, if the Messiah had been conceived within wedlock, it would have been difficult to hold that His conception was God’s doing, and not Joseph’s. So God chooses a virgin who is betrothed, and asks her husband-to-be to accept her as his wife and to foster a child that is not his.

Furthermore, earliest tradition tells us that Mary remained a virgin even after wedlock. To me, that’s a pretty tough call for a man who was about to be married! Yet this is the divine providence, that Joseph renounce that intimate expression of love and give himself to the care of his wife and foster-child. For us Christians, this is surely a pretty stark contrast with the agenda that is presented to us today? An agenda that effectively reduces the sexual act to a commodity to which everyone has the right, in whatever form they choose and whenever they choose! It seems that Joseph recognised that the good of the child, as provided by a parent of either sex and a stable home environment, was greater than the good of an intimate relationship for himself. Presumably God saw it that way too, since He asked it of Joseph.
If we, as Christians, profess our belief in God’s action in this world, as recorded by Scripture and Tradition, it is not enough to simply acknowledge that God has done something; especially today, the question that is asked first is “how” is it done. What God has done at the human level, He presumably has done in the way in which He intended it should be done. The context in which God chose to go about entering existence as a human being can hardly be anything other than the context He intended for all human beings. The fact that God chose to conceive His son within the framework of the male-female partnership and that He did not exclude either parent from the upbringing of His son, must have as much significance for us today as the fact that He did enter human existence at all. Although we cannot expect everyone, regardless of faith, to accept this event, if we do believe that this is God’s action then it has to be valid for everyone. It requires us, however, to present it in a manner that is reasonable and coherent to all.

Mass at the Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth.

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