There are probably more works of art based on today’s gospel passage of the Annunciation than of any other event in history. A Google image search brings up dozens of different artistic representations from the well known Fra Angelico to more modern images.
A few years ago I visited an exhibition of works by African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner and was moved by many of his depictions of religious scenes including his Annunciation pictured above.
While many Annunciation images convey something of the mystery and other-world reality of the event, Tanner’s work is down-to-earth with a timid and young Mary sitting on her bed suddenly startled awake by the presence of God with her.
And Mary as a young Jewish woman familiar with the Old Testament would have known well the words of the prophet Isaiah, today’s first reading:
“The Lord himself, therefore
will give you a sign.
It is this: the maiden is with child
and will soon give birth to a son
whom she will call Emmanuel
a name which means “God is with us.”
And then, a few centuries after Isaiah’s prophesy, Mary is (as Tanner in his painting suggests) awakened by the divine presence in the middle of the night, bedclothes thrown aside, light filling Mary’s heart as much as her room. Yet almost immediately, (realising this presence was of God) she was without fear leading her to respond “I am the handmaid of the Lord…let what you have said be done to me”
Mary could not have imagined what was being asked of her. But she knew that her only discernment was of whether or not this was God.
If this was God then there is only one answer and that is “yes”.
“I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’”
And then there is the powerful link to yesterday’s encounter between the angel of the Lord and Zechariah. Today’s gospel ends with the angel sharing news of the expectant Elizabeth and Zechariah:
“Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.”
- Take as your mantra for the day “Nothing is impossible for God.” Whenever you think of a situation that is difficult, a person who is struggling, or when your own anxiety threatens to overpower you, simply repeat several times slowly and gently: “Nothing is impossible for God.”
O Antiphon: 20 December
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel,
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni,
et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel!
You open and no one closes,
You close and no one opens:
Come and lead out of prison
the captive who sits in darkness and the shadow of death.