The Annunciation, Helena Vurnik 1915, National Gallery of Slovenia, Ljubljana, Slovenia.
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[The angel said] “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God….” Luke 1:35.
Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
It is thought that girls got married in the time of Jesus when they were physically able to bear children. That probably means mid-teenage years, and quite probably that marriage would be arranged by her parents, in the same way their marriage had been, as in the famous “Matchmaker, matchmaker“ from Fiddler on the Roof. All of which must tell us how shocked, scared, intimidated, amazed and possibly awed Miriam, which is Mary’s real Jewish name, must have been when this heavenly apparition appeared to her. Helena Vurnik’s beautiful picture above seems to capture some of that wonder, after the young girl had accepted what was clearly God’s astonishing will for her that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit. In one world-shattering moment human history was transformed. What Adam and Eve – we – had destroyed by their – our – disobedience, ushering in pain and death, Mary corrected by her obedience to the will of God in that moment, which inaugurated at last the possibility of an eternal life of joy. And in a few days time we will commemorate, nine months after the feast of the Annunciation, the birth of God’s Son whose life’s teaching and work enable each of us to gain an eternity of happiness and joy in God’s presence.
Let’s think about that last idea – the presence of God, the definition of the word “grace”: Hail Mary, full of the presence of God....”. From time immemorial, there have been places claimed, as it were, by a higher presence, a spiritual “something”. If you have ever visited Stonehenge in England, there is a certain presence there (though this was more apparent in the old days when you could wander around the stones at will). I’m sure many people have experienced this in varied locations, coming away with more than was put in, as it were. In Genesis 12, where God, as a still small voice, approached Abram, later Abraham, that experience of “presence” became more pronounced, even though a disembodied voice. That ended with the drama of the Passover, the crossing of the sea, the arrival at Mount Sinai and the identification of the Hebrews as God’s Chosen People. That being so, God demanded the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, into which went the Tablets of the Law, the two stones engraved with the Ten Commandments. The voice of God had proclaimed these, God had promised that if those commands were agreed to, then, God said, “I will be your God” (Genesis 17:7). From that moment, the Ark was taken to be the presence of God among God’s people. It was their most sacred artifact, as the Law represented God; it came from the finger of God. Later, with the establishment of the kingdom of David, the king became obsessed with God dwelling in a box protected by a tent, whereas he lived in a “house of cedar” as today’s first reading puts it. David wanted a building fit for God to dwell in. Due to his misdeeds, God was not too happy with this, forbade David to have anything to do with it, but permitted his son, Solomon, to go ahead, and the Temple in Jerusalem was constructed, in the center of which was the Holy of Holies, where the Ark rested until its disappearance after the Babylonian conquest. This was all destroyed by the Babylonians, then rebuilt. Much later, King Herod, near the time of Jesus, constructed a spectacular new temple, if contemporary reports are to be believed, and that was the building Jesus was familiar with. It was the site of the first recorded act of Jesus, when, barely at the age of reason, he was found in conversation with the priests of the temple while on pilgrimage with his parents.
Now what is this all about? Well, we have progressive locations, as it were, where God seemed to dwell. So sacred was the temple to Jews that even today, 2000 years after the temple of Herod was destroyed by the Romans after a revolt, the Western Wall, the foundation of that building, is the holiest place in the world for the Jewish people.
The Western Wall, Summer 2018, Jerusalem, Israel.
But for Christians, the story does not end at the Temple. At the Annunciation, today’s gospel, God literally entered human life in the womb of the Virgin. At his birth, the Son of God’s first dwelling was a cave, or a stable, depending on which tradition you wish to believe in. Jesus moved through his years of work, then of his mission, the presence of God within him. Then, at the Last Supper, Jesus gave us consecrated bread and wine, declaring them to be his body and blood. We believe Jesus to be Son of God, within the Trinity of God. Hence wherever that consecrated food is, there is God. Go into the humblest, smallest Catholic church anywhere in the world, and there will be a small tabernacle, inside which is the presence of God.
St. Martin’s Catholic Church, 3490 South Highway 237, Warrenton, Texas, USA: “World’s Smallest Catholic Church”
And ultimately, when we receive Holy Communion, then we ourselves become the presence of God, with the obligation to live up to that heavenly standard as children of God with all that that demands. And so it will remain until Christ comes enthroned on the clouds of heaven to claim us all for God. That’s quite a procession from the first revelation of God in Genesis 12 to Sunday at Mass (hopefully real rather than virtual!) and the strength it gives us to behave as God wishes.
Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church, 780 Highway 44, Reserve, Louisiana, USA.
Friday is Christmas Day. Have a wonderful blessed and happy day. Give thanks to God for all that you have to be thankful for.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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