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Mary’s Response to God’s Call and Our Response: The Movement of a Call

By Sr. Anne, SSJD

Isaiah 7:10-14; Hebrews 5:5-10; Luke 1:26-38

Today’s readings are like a multi faceted diamond that presents us with some light into Mary’s response of “Yes” to God’s call to be the mother of Jesus the Christ. When researching other calls by God particularly in the Hebrew scriptures of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah to name only a few, there emerged a pattern with each unique call.

>an angel or God appears first
> brings greetings and/or message
> purpose of the visit – “the will of God” is fleshed out together with a promise or a purpose
> the recipient responds either with a question or refusal (buying for time)
> assurance is given by God “I will be with you” or a comparison (in Mary’s case)
> acceptance by the recipient

What follows is a demonstration of this pattern at work in our Gospel today.

First, there is the appearance of the angel, Gabriel:
“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth to a young woman named Mary; she was engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David.”

This is the not the first appearance of the angel Gabriel, the messenger of God, who is also recorded in the book of Daniel and later to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist (more on that appearance later):
“When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I tried to understand it. Then someone appeared standing before me, having the appearance of a man, and I heard a human voice calling “Gabriel, help this man understand the vision.” (Daniel 8:15-16) “While I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen before in a vision, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He came and said to me, “Daniel, I have come out to give you wisdom and understanding. (Daniel 9:21-22) “Daniel, greatly beloved, pay attention to the words that I am going to speak to you. Stand on your feet, for I have now been sent to you.” (Daniel 10:11)

Mary’s greeting was this: “Upon arriving, the angel said to Mary: “Rejoice, highly favoured one! God is with you! Blessed are you among women!” and her response initially to this greeting was: “But she was much perplexed by these words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be”. The Angel went on to say to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favour with God.”

Daniel in similar vein, is addressed: “Do not fear, greatly beloved, you are safe. Be strong and courageous!” (Daniel 10:19)

And now comes the message and the purpose of the visit from the angel Gabriel to Mary: “You will conceive and bear a son, and give him the name Jesus. His dignity will be great and he will be called the Only Begotten of God. God will give Jesus the judgment seat of David, his ancestor. To rule over the house of Jacob forever and his reign will never end.”

This message is supported by a prophetic saying from the prophet Isaiah and a portion from the Old testament reading for today: “Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign: Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall came his name Immanuel (7:14)

And not part of our readings today, but sheds light on the message from Gabriel: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named wonderful, counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father, the prince of peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.” (9:6-7)

St. Paul remarked: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent the Only Begotten, born of a woman, born under the law.” (Galatians 4:4)

Thinking about this news may have been a bit overwhelming for Mary, so she asked a question for further clarification: “Mary asked the angel, “How can this happen? I am a virgin.”

In a blog called the Education of the Blessed Virgin Mary published in 2014, I found the following information which gave some light into Mary’s title of Virgin:

“According to an old tradition, Mary was educated at the Temple in Jerusalem when she was a child. She would have been a part of a group of young girls who served at the Temple and were referred to as the Temple Virgins. They were educated and guided by a group of older women, widows who were once Temple Virgins themselves.
Mary became a Temple Virgin at the age of 4 years. The girls were chosen to enter the service of the Temple if they and their families were devout Jews. The Temple virgins were very well educated; they were taught to read and write. The women who taught the Temple Virgins were themselves well educated. They had the guidance and instruction of the Jewish priests. Therefore, all the women and girls were well taught in matters of religion and could read and write Hebrew. They knew the scriptures well and they had a good understanding of the doctrines and disciplines of the Jewish Faith.
The girls completed their service about the age of 14 years so that they could rejoin their families and then be married shortly after. The Virgin Mary left the Temple to be given in marriage to Joseph at the age of 14 years. When Matthew and Luke wrote about Mary, referring to her as a virgin, the meaning of the term was likely the knowledge and assertion that Mary had been a Temple Virgin.”

The angel answered her question by saying, “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 the Holy One of God.”

And for reassurance Gabriel continued: “And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.”

This was inside information, as Gabriel had been present when “there appeared to Zechariah an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense…The angel said to him “Do not be afraid, Zechariah for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” (Luke 1:11-13)

When Zechariah asked how he would know this is true, the angel replied “I am Gabriel, I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” (Luke 1:19)

Gabriel concluded his message to Mary by saying: “Nothing is impossible with God.”

We have some examples of the impossible things that God had done in ancient times. For instance, there is the story of another annunciation given to Sarah by “an angel of the Lord”:
“Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:14)

Jeremiah once said “Nothing is too hard for you.” (Jeremiah 32:17)

Paul wrote about Abraham believing in the impossible: “Being fully convinced that God was able to do what was promised.” (Romans 4:21)

An acceptance by Mary, after having been fully convinced of the angel Gabriel’s message, Mary replied: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; Let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.”

Mary’s call to be the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ was very unique. There has not yet been a call that superseded such a call. Yet, we know what a call from God means for each of us as individuals, as each is unique according to the circumstances we find ourselves in. I am convinced that there remains an old pattern to each call which continues to this day. I myself can truly witness to that truth, as I reflected on Mary’s call, that, that too was the form of my own call “to serve in the work of Christ’s church.” When I said my own “yes” I had peace. May it be so for all of us and the work of our community.   Amen