Saturday, March 25, 2017

Did you notice that today was the Annunciation? I didn't

I almost completely forgot that today was the Feast of the Annunciation.

The Annunciation is the day that traditionally marks the proclamation of the angel Gabriel to Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus. It comes nine months to the day before Christmas, which should make it a cinch to remember. And yet here it is, and I've only just noticed.

And yet, isn't that completely appropriate? The day was certainly significant to Mary – according to the gospel of Luke, where the story of the annunciation is recorded, Gabriel appeared to her and said: “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  And then, seeing her troubled by this unorthodox greeting, the angel went on to tell her that she miraculously would become pregnant, have a son and name him Jesus; and that this child would be the long-awaited messiah.

Movies often depict Mary as a young adult, but the gospels never really say how old she was. Our only clue is when Matthew and Luke's gospels identify her as engaged to marry Joseph. Jewish custom at the time would have permitted a girl to betrothed while she was 12 to 14 years old. If she were alive today, Mary would have been in seventh to ninth grades.

I'm imagining Gabriel's announcement came as something of a shock to Mary, as it probably did to her parents and to Joseph when she told them. That shock is probably one of the reasons that Gabriel told her that her relative Elizabeth, who was childless and past the age of having children, already was entering her final trimester of pregnancy with John the Baptist – so Mary could go and verify the report, which she promptly did.

But outside that room where the angel confronted her, and outside the immediate circle of Mary's family and Joseph and his family, the visitation and announcement wouldn't have made much of a splash.

Galilee and Judea were still under the iron rule both of Rome and Herod the Great, its client king. Most people living there were struggling just to survive, especially where Herod was concerned. The old king in his later years had become astonishingly paranoid and cruel. Among the other things he did, the old goat ordered one of his own sons strangled to death at the table during dinner. He also wrote in his will that when he himself died, the leading men of the city were to be crucified, all to guarantee that there would be mourning for his death.

By the time of the Emperor Claudius, there would be riots in the Jewish quarter of Rome over the missionary efforts of Priscilla and Aquila. In 5 BCE, Mary's pregnancy would have held absolutely no interest. Caesar Augustus was turning 53 that year. He had been princeps, what the Romans called “first citizen,” for 22 years, a position he had only strengthened over the intervening period. His long-term goal was to making arrangements so this position could become hereditary without actually appearing to do so.

In China, the bigger birth would prove to be Liu Xiu. In 25 C.E., Liu Xiu would become Emperor Guangwu, restore the Han dynasty and eventually consolidate China into one nation before his death in 57 C.E. It's doubtful that if anyone there cared about Judea and Galilee, if they had ever even heard of them, let alone what was going on in Nazareth.

And thus it is with the works of God. He starts with a whisper, and we don't even notice that he's talking. We go on with our lives as we always have, while his work continues and grows, until finally the day arrives when people begin to take notice.

The first to notice something odd would be the wine steward at a wedding in Cana, and he would misunderstand what it was he found.

The first ones really to grasp the significance of Jesus' coming will be outcasts. Lepers would notice him, prostitutes would look for him, and the peasants would rally to him wherever he went.

The last to notice him would be the leaders: the magistrates, the kings and the governors. And one day the emperors would notice him, and the world would turn on its axis.

But today is the Feast of Annunciation. God is on the move, and no one notices or cares. Life goes on as it always has, and we are blind to the wonders in our midst.

Copyright © 2017 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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