Around the time of Christ, Jewish women lived in anticipation, hoping that they might be privileged to give birth to the Messiah, the Redeemer long foretold by the prophets. As noted in last month’s Trisagion, the Feast of the Presentation originated in the Jewish custom to dedicate to God each first-born male who opened the womb, on the fortieth day after his birth. Each such son was consecrated to God, and was possibly the Messiah.
When the Archangel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she would be the one to conceive the Messiah, she is perplexed, however. In fact, she is afraid (Luke 1). She is not anticipating giving birth, much less giving birth to Christ. She is, after all, a Virgin, and has no intention to violate her vow to God: to remain in virginity all her life.
It is a paradoxical conversation to say the least. Be-cause our celebration falls concurrently with Lent, the paradox is heightened even more. During Lent we also remember another conversation between another woman, Eve, and another archangel, Lucifer. In that case, by twisting the truth, the archangel tempts Eve to betray her relationship with God. And she does so, interposing her own will in place of God’s. The result was sin, death and separation from God.
In this case, Gabriel offers the Virgin “good news,” (the meaning of “Annunciation” in Greek) that she will both be mother of the Messiah and the Mother of God as well. Instead of her own will, her response is “be it unto me according to Thy word.”
Her answer in Latin, fiat, captures well the explicit-ness of her choice: “Let it be done!” She does not answer merely, “I’ve heard it,” but “May it be done in me!” How different from Eve! With Mary’s response, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:13) Instead of sin, obedience; instead of death, Life; instead of separation from God, communion with Him.
Hence, the backdrop of Lent: like Eve, we have disobeyed. We have inherited death. We have lost communion with God. Yet, as our celebration of the Incarnation commences once more, there is Good News to hear.
Like the Virgin, let us hear it. Like the Virgin, let us say, “Be it done”: God’s kingdom, God’s will, God’s life in us, right now.