“Do not be afraid”, these words spoken by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary over two millennia ago, still resonate in the human heart. Imagine a young Jewish girl, the daughter of Anne and Joachim, possibly trained in the temple, experiencing this Visitation. There is no record in the Scriptures of anyone who was spoken to as she, “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you”, and then, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God”. Mary, barely out of childhood, believed deeply in God. And although she was astounded to learn she would conceive and bear a son, she listened intently before asking how this would be possible.
Gabriel answered, “The power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be holy; He will be called the Son of God.” And he went on to say that her kinswoman Elizabeth, although long barren, had conceived a son six months earlier. She was encouraged to believe and accept what the Angel had said, but was also free to choose.
Her simple reply, “Let it be with me according to your word” still stands as our example of fully embracing a call full of mystery and the unknown. This was an integral part of the Good News which had been promised hundreds of years earlier in Genesis. So when the Angel Gabriel left Nazareth, Mary went immediately to visit her cousin Elizabeth in Judea. Elizabeth, who was well beyond child-bearing age, was already in her sixth month and awaiting the birth of a promised son. It was there that Mary, after greeting Elizabeth, was filled with the Holy Spirit and responded exultantly with God’s promise for Mary and many others: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant… He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, according to the promise He made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever”. Her response, known as The Magnificat, remains a beloved vespers canticle in Christian liturgy.
The Annunciation was celebrated as early as the 4th century. Since then, many havemeditated upon this significant event; musicians, iconographers, artists, and others have captured some of its beauty and significance. In recent centuries musicians, Pachelbel in the 17th century and Mozart in the 18th century for example, have beautifully conveyed God’s faithfulness in moving Vespers antiphons. And there have been numerous inspired icons of the Annunciation. Many iconographers have fasted and prayed while creating their works. One well-known icon is in Tinos, an island off Greece, and there are many other celebrated icons in Russian churches. All these are wonderful reminders that “God is compassionate and gracious, abounding in love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:15)