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El Creco, The Annunciation (1600)
With three prior Annunciation images I have pointed to some aspects of the Annunciation to Mary: fear at an unexpected encounter with the divine presence; surprise and wonder about such a greeting; and, the opportunity to accept the significance of God’s visitation. Today, I want to highlight a fourth aspect of Mary’s experience of the Annunciation, her response of joy at having said, “Yes.”
It is not hard for us to admire Mary and her willing response to God’s initiative, at first in her life, and then in and for ours. But how easy is it for us to identify with Mary’s joy, reflected in the words we know as the Magnificat, her song of praise, with regard to the promise of Jesus’ birth?
For many of us, these 12 Holy Days may be a time in which we challenge ourselves to feel as ‘joyful’ as we think we should be – or, perhaps, to criticize ourselves for failing to experience the same. But what is ‘joy?’ I have an icon that depicts St. Thomas Aquinas, wherein he holds a text on which is printed, “Joy is the noblest human act.”
Joy at this time, as always, is not just a spontaneous feeling prompted by fleeting circumstances. Joy is actually an act, a choice, and a willing participation in divine initiative. For the word joy is related to the verb rejoice. God says to us during these 12 Holy Days – as God always does – I am come unto you to bless you, to bring you new life, to transform everything you think you know, and in ways you have yet to imagine.
Until we get to ‘the other side,’ and can ask Mary, herself, none of us will know what she really imagined would be part of her acceptance of God’s strange and unanticipated plan of redemption for our fallen and troubled world. What we can be most thankful for is at least one implied word that was part of Mary’s response to God’s initiative. She said, yes. With her beautiful example, and so many compelling artistic representations of the same, isn’t it a wonder why we so often find it hard to respond as she did.
In this last of the 12 Days of Christmas, let us say “yes” to God with Mary. And then, starting with the feast of the Epiphany, tomorrow, may we live into the real joy of that “yes.” Her uplifted hand, in El Greco’s painting above, says it all.
May our Lord, who was and is, and is to come, bless us and our loved ones during this holy time.
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