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How Annunciations Work

December 21, 2014 click on left end of black bar to play-pause

December 21, 2014
Luke 1:26-38
Fr. George Smiga

Today’s gospel is the Annunciation: the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will become the mother of God’s son. The story is rich and complex and there are many ways we could approach it. But I would like to focus on one line, the last one: “And then the angel departed from her.” Why does this text go out of its way to tell us that the angel left? Did we imagine that the angel was going to stay? Did we suppose that Gabriel was going to move in with Mary and Joseph and become a resident of Nazareth? Of course not. The text tells us that the angel departed, not to correct some misconception in our mind, but to show us how annunciations work.

Annunciations are joyful beginnings. They initiate a gift that is meant to unfold into the future. Annunciations often involve angels, visible signs of God’s presence. When an angel is present, doubts can be resolved, commitment can be strengthened, and hope can be confirmed. But once the good thing has begun, once the gift has been announced, the angel departs. Then we are left to live out that gift without sure signs of God’s presence.

Mary knew this truth. When the angel Gabriel left her, no further angels were sent. There was no angel to tell Mary what she should say to Joseph as he planned to divorce her over her pregnancy. There was no angel to guide her as she fled from mad King Herod into Egypt. There was no angel to support her as her own family doubted the validity of Jesus’ ministry. There was no angel to console her as she watched the child of her womb die on the cross. As Mary lived out her joyful annunciation, she had to remember the words that were spoken to her. She had to press forward without visible assurances. She had to believe that the good news she heard was real, even after the angel left. Mary’s story demonstrates that her trust was not in vain. She last appears in the Bible in the Book of Acts, gathered with the apostles and joyfully praising God for her Son’s resurrection.

Mary is an example to us. Her story shows us how we are to deal with joyful beginnings in our lives. When we hold a newly born son, daughter, or grandchild in our arms, there is no doubt that angels are present. The love and the promise of that moment is tangible. But then, as the relationship grows, there can be mistakes, misunderstandings, and even possible estrangements. It is then that we need to believe with Mary that joyful beginnings will not be wasted. When we enter a new school or begin a new job, it is easy to feel that we are full of grace. But then there are challenges, jealousies, exams, and turf wars. It is then that we, like Mary, must trust that joyful promises can still reach their fulfillment. When we meet our partner for life or our closest friend, there is no doubt that God is with us at the beginning. But as the relationship grows, we must struggle with patience, compromise, and forgiveness. Then we need to believe with Mary that what was joyfully begun still has a future.

Annunciations are beautiful moments—moments of hope, light, and joy. But living out those gifts requires courage, perseverance, and faith. This is why the story of Mary is important. It tells us that God does not begin good things in our lives to deceive us and that the voice of the announcing angel can be trusted. When we believe with Mary, we understand that even when the angel departs, God is still with us.

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