March 25, 2017

Annunciation

March 25, 2017:  Annunciation of the  Lord

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How can we live gospel joy today?  Is Christian hope possible here and now?  These questions require that we see our place in history a new way.  Consider Luke's annunciation stories, John the Baptist's in the Jerusalem Temple, and Jesus' in Galilee, a city with less-than-excellent reputation.  The contrast indicates that God’s new encounter with his people will take place where we wouldn't normally expect it:  on the margins and peripheries.
God takes the initiative and chooses to enter our struggles.  Finding joy in our daily lives can be a challenge due to speculation or taking advantage of others.  Some speculate on life, work, family, the poor, migrants, young people, and the future.  Everything gets reduced to numbers, leaving family life precarious.
The keys to finding joy in our mission are memory, belonging, and seeing the possible in the impossible.  The angel evokes Mary's memory, opening her present to salvation history; he evokes the promises to David as a fruit of the Covenant with Jacob.  Mary is a daughter of the Covenant.  This memory allows Mary to recognize her belonging to the People of God.  Nothing is impossible for God.  When we let ourselves be helped or counseled and open ourselves to grace, the impossible begins to become reality.  God continues to seek allies capable of believing, remembering, recognizing themselves as belonging to his people, and cooperating with the Spirit's creativity.
The Holy Spirit in the paschal mystery of Christ:  In the two preceding meditations we showed how the Spirit leads us into the truth about Christ, making him known as “Lord” and “true God from true God.”  Now we shift shift from the person of Christ to his work, from being to acting, and show how the Spirit illuminates the paschal mystery.
We're tempted to put “urgent” things ahead of “important” ones and “recent” ahead of “eternal”; the rapid pace of communication and hunger for news exacerbates this tendency.  What's more important or timely than to know whether life has meaning, whether death is the end or the beginning?  The paschal mystery is the only answer; the difference between this issue and those on the news is the same as between one who looks at a wave on the shore and one who contemplates the whole sea.
Let's start by meditating on Jesus' death on the cross.  Christ “through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God.”  The “eternal Spirit” is the Holy Spirit; an ancient text variant confirms this.  The Spirit gave Jesus, as man, the impulse to offer himself to the Father and the strength to sustain him.  The liturgy expresses this:  “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, by the Father's will, with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, have by your death given the world life....”  That same dynamic also occurred in prayer:  Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father....’”  The Spirit made the prayer rise up in him and urged him to offer himself to the Father.  The connection between the Spirit and Jesus' death is highlighted primarily in John.  In connection with the promise of living water, he notes, “The Spirit hadn't been given yet because Jesus wasn't glorified yet,” i.e., lifted on the cross.  Jesus “yielded his spirit” on the cross, symbolized by water and blood; “there are three witnesses:  the Spirit, the water, and the blood.”
The Spirit brings Jesus to the cross, where Jesus gives the Spirit.  The Spirit was given to Jesus when he was born and baptized; Jesus gives the Spirit when he dies.  Peter tells the crowd gathered at Pentecost, “Having received the Holy Spirit, he has poured out what you see and hear.”  Church Fathers highlighted this reciprocity. “The Lord received ointment on his head to breathe incorruptibility on the church” (Ignatius of Antioch).  There's a celebration of a mystery, not just an anniversary, when “the commemoration of the event is so ordered that it's understood as significant of something to be received with reverence as sacred”  (Augustine).  What does Christ's death signify for us?  What did it change about our death?
One died for all:  Our creed ends, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”; it doesn't mention the death preceding resurrection because it's not an object of faith.  But death touches us too closely to pass over.  To see how Christ changed death, consider how we've dealt with death and how people try to console themselves. Death is the number one human problem.  "When a child is born, people speculate, 'Will he be handsome, rich, grow old?'  But no one asks, 'Will he die?'  When someone has [an incurable disease], we say, 'He's going to die; there's no cure.'  Shouldn't we say that about anyone who's born?  'He has to die; there's no cure.'  So what if he has more or less time?  Death is the fatal disease we contract through birth" (Augustine, paraphrased).
Perhaps better than thinking of our lives as “a mortal life” we should think of them as “a living death,” a life of dying.  Heidegger made death a subject for philosophy.  Defining life and a human being as a “being-toward-death,” he saw death not as ending life but as the substance of life, the way life unfolds.  To live is to die.  Every instant we live gets consumed, subtracted from life, handed over to death. “Living-for-death” means death is the purpose of life.  One is born to die; we come from and return to nothingness; it's our only option.
Philosophy shows what our destiny is if left to itself, but the Christian vision is that we're “beings-for-eternity.”  Perhaps the poets speak about death most simply and wisely.  Ungaretti described people confronting death:  "They stand / like leaves / on the trees / in autumn."  The Hebrew scriptures don't have a clear answer on death.  The Wisdom books speak about it as a question.  Job, Ps, Qo, Si, and Wis dedicate space to the theme. “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” The Old Testament doesn't say why we're born or die, or where we go when we die, except that God wills it to be so; everyone will be judged.  Unbelievers thought, “Short and sorrowful is our life, and there's no remedy when a man comes to his end,....  We were born by chance and shall be as though we'd never been.”  Only in Wis, the latest book of wisdom literature, do we begin to see the idea of recompense after death.  "The souls of the just are in God’s hands," even if they didn't know what that meant.  We do read, “Precious in the Lord's sight is the death of his saints,” but we can't put too much weight on the verse since its meaning seems to point to something else:  God makes people pay for the death of his faithful; he holds people to account.
How have we reacted to the necessity of death?  One response:  not to think about it.  For Epicurus death was no concern:  “So long as we exist, death is not present, and when it's present we don't exist.”  The Napoleonic Code placed cemeteries outside city limits.  People also clung to positive remedies; the most universal is having children and continuing to live through them.  Another was living on through fame:  “I shall not wholly die [because] my reputation shall grow” (Horace).  In Marxism, one survives through future society.  Another palliative remedy is reincarnation; those who profess it and know what it is know it's a punishment, not a remedy or consolation.  A soul is reincarnated because it still has something to atone for, and if you have to atone, you'll suffer.  God's word cuts off all delusive paths of escape:  “People die once; then comes judgment.”  Reincarnation is incompatible with Christian faith.  Other remedies have appeared:  “Transhumanism” is conviction that the human species is on the path to surpass itself radically, to the point of living for centuries or perhaps forever!  According to Zoltan Istvan, the final goal will be “to become like God and conquer death.”  A Jew or Christian can't help but to think of the serpent's words, “You won't die....  You'll be like God,” and the result we know. (continued tomorrow)
Read
  • Is 7:10-14; 8:10  Lord / Ahaz:  "Ask for a sign!" / “No; I won't test God.”  Isaiah:  "The Lord will give you this sign:  the virgin shall bear a son, Emmanuel, 'God with us!'"
    The Annunciation/ Tissot
  • Ps 40:7-11  "Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will."  You wanted obedience, not sacrifice.  I delight in doing your will.  I announced your justice, faithfulness, kindness, and truth.
  • Heb 10:4-10  Bull/goat blood doesn't take away sins.  He says, “You didn't want sacrifices,” then, “I come to do your will,” taking away the first to establish the second.  We've been consecrated through the offering of the Body of Jesus.
  • Lk 1:26-38  God sent Gabriel to Mary betrothed to Joseph:  “Fear not; you'll bear a great son, Jesus, Son of the Most High, to rule forever.” / “How?” / “The Holy Spirit will come upon you....  'Barren' Elizabeth has also conceived; nothing will be impossible for God.” / “OK; I'm the Lord's handmaid.”
Reflect
  • Poem:  Annunciation/ Levertov; link includes the last 18 lines, usually omitted.
    Study for the Annunciation/ Tanner
  • Creighton:  The mystery of Incarnation is consciousness of the process of salvation, by which God brings creation out of nothing, life from death, love from hate, and fullness from emptiness. The Church’s recognition that Incarnation is the process of salvation is clear in the “beginning” character of today's celebration:  Jesus’ conception date (we celebrate his birth 9 months later :-) and the gospel of the invitation to a young Jewish girl to partner with God by conceiving and bearing Jesus.  Mary's knowledge of Israel's experience of God and her deep trust of God helped her to say yes.  King Ahaz might have been aware of God’s past care but was unwilling to risk the future based on it.  By refusing to trust, he put God’s plan at risk!  Dare I trust God to guide me toward decisions that will serve his work in my life and in the Kingdom of God?  Pope Francis asks us to trust in the Spirit and learn God's desire.  We're called to embrace how God has cared for us and to embrace a future of possibilities that will reveal God’s victory.  Dare I look at what I'm afraid of and risk discovering how to be incarnational?  Dare I say yes to God like Mary did?
  • One Bread, One Body:  "The people of the Incarnation":  When God became man, it became possible for him to die, and dying made it possible for him to rise and so save us.  So God's Incarnation is the beginning of the greatest events in history; this is why we count years starting from the Incarnation (AD).  We recall Jesus' Incarnation when we pray the Angelus.  We recall the Annunciation of his Incarnation when we pray the Hail Mary and the first joyful mystery of the rosary.  We also celebrate the Incarnation in the Christmas season.  We're the people of the Incarnation; we receive God incarnate whenever we receive Communion.  With Mary, may each of us say with our life, "I am the Lord's handmaid.  Let it be done to me according to your word."
  • Passionist:  Mary is Theotokos, 'God-bearer.'  She agreed to something she didn’t understand.  She did understand the overshadowing ways God works. As Moses couldn't see God “face to face,” she said yes to a power and hope she couldn’t imagine.  God can still work in cloudy, overshadowing ways....
  • DailyScripture.net:  "You have found favor with God":  "Show me a sign of Your favor."  God performed many signs to demonstrate his love and mercy, such as deliverance from slavery and the crossing of the Red Sea.  When King Ahaz was surrounded by forces threatening to destroy him and his people, God offered him a sign to reassure him God wouldn't abandon his promise to David and his descendants, but the king had lost hope and refused to ask for a sign.  God nonetheless gave a sign to assure his people he'd give them a Savior who'd rule with justice and peace.  We see the fulfillment of that prophecy and the unfolding of God's saving plan in the events leading to the Incarnation and the birth of the Messiah, beginning with the miraculous conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit's action on Mary.  As Eve was the mother of humanity doomed to sin, Mary becomes the mother of the new Adam, father of a new humanity by grace, fulfillment of God's promises.  The angel tells Mary, daughter of the house of David, the promise made to David.  When Mary heard God's message through Gabriel, she knew it was beyond human capability.  Her question wasn't out of doubt but wonder; she responded with faith, believing God's promises, impossible as they seemed.  She was willing and eager to do God's will, difficult as it seemed.  God gives us grace and expects us to respond with the same willingness, obedience, and trust; he gives us the help, strength, and means.  May we yield to his grace....
Dress legend
  • "Happy birthday, Jesus" pin:  "Ahaz, ask for a sign" (1st reading) [today's tie trumped my 'signs' tie]; Annunciation led to Jesus' birth (gospel)
    • 'Hearts' suspenders:  Your law is in my heart (psalm)
    • 'Blood drop' pin:  Bull or goat blood can't take away sins (2nd reading)
    • 'Scroll' pin:  "In the scroll it's prescribed that I do your will" (psalm, 2nd reading)
    • 'Dove' pin:  The Holy Spirit conceived Jesus (gospel)
    • Blue tie with crowns:  'Blessed Mother blue' (gospel); God will give Jesus the throne of David (gospel)
    • 'Angel,' 'Mary' pins:  Gabriel's annunciation to Mary (gospel)
    • 'Question mark' tie pin:  "How can this be?" (gospel)
    • "No-'L'" pin:  Gospel is from Luke's infancy narrative
    • 'Phone' tie bar:  God's 'call' to Mary through Gabriel
    • White shirt:  Today's liturgical color