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Fernando Armellini - Thu, Mar 25th 2021

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“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named  Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and  the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with  you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of  greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found  favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call  his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God  will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for  ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be,  since I have no husband?" And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and  the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called  holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived  a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will  be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me  according to your word." And the angel departed from her.” 

The Annunciation is one of the subjects best represented in the history of art. Until the  Renaissance, there was no church where it was not represented. We recall all the great work  of Simone Martini (c. 1333), the Blessed Angelico who have fascinated entire generations who  have been excitedly contemplating the angel's scene announcing to Mary the birth of Jesus. 

Then many painters were not satisfied with what the evangelist Luke said and added many details that they took from the apocryphal gospels. In the 18th century, when Enlightenment  ideas appeared, society became more secular and this sweet and serene scene of the  encounter of the angel with the virgin almost disappears of the pictorial subjects. 

This is not bad because it forced us to go beyond the emotions that the page of Luke  raises, and that certainly helped us to approach the mystery and not end in emotions, but to  study the literary genre that the author has used. If we just let ourselves be carried away by  this great story, we finally ask ourselves: Is it a chronicle of an episode that has happened as  it is narrated or is it just a fable? If it was a narration of an episode, it was not so well narrated.  I should say: where Mary was, what she was doing ... why she was disturbed when the angel  says she will have a child, if she was betrothed for that purpose… Then, how did the angel  come in? Did he pass through the door? What features does he have? Did he have wings? Why were these details that satisfy our curiosity, not told to us? Then why did not Mary  inform Joseph of the encounter she had with the angel? Instead, she complicated this whole  matter and has endangered Mary's honor. 

If we consider this narrative a faithful account, even with the details, of what has  happened, we will encounter difficulties, for the reason of not understanding the language  and the literary genre employed by the evangelist. It is a page of theology, written on a desk,  after Easter. That is, after the community has recognized who the son of Mary was and has  presented it, from his conception, as the Son of the Most High. The one who wrote this page  was a very capable biblical scholar, profoundly familiar with the Old Testament and with the  prophecies that he quotes indirectly putting them in the mouth of the angel. He uses the  Biblical images and the literary forms known in Israel, because they are those of the Old  Testament which speak of the 'virgin Zion'. We will never know whether the announcement  was a physical, verifiable event, or just an inner revelation of Mary. And we will not know  when or how Mary became aware of her mission as the mother of the Messiah. 

All this interests us out of curiosity, but it does not interest our faith. What counts is to  understand the message that the evangelist wants to give us: Who is the son of Mary, who is  this man who then invites you to give up your life and then to live according to his proposal  and his light? The evangelist wants to make his readers understand what he has presented  for the history of humankind the moment in which the human life of the Son of God flourished  in the womb of Mary. After this introduction, let us turn to the gospel text. "In the sixth month  the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth.” 

Let's try to analyze these details. First of all: "The sixth month". It is a chronological indication that we are not very interested in. We would have preferred to be told the exact  date ... that we are now rebuilding a little with the biblical studies: in what year may have  happened the birth of Jesus. And today it is placed, with enough precision, in year 746 of the  foundation of Rome. 

An evangelist, a historian, should tell us the year, month, day; he could have referred to  the year 20 since Augustus was called emperor ... therefore, in the year 7 B.C. Or he could  have said, the 29th year of King Herod's reign and we would have the exact year of the  incarnation of the Son of God. Instead he writes: "In the sixth month." Up to now it was the  chronology of the history of this world, the history of humankind, but now a new history  begins. 

The sixth month refers to the time when the angel Gabriel announced to Zechariah that  the barren womb of Elizabeth would give birth to the precursor, the Baptist. Therefore, this  sixth month says much from the theological point of view and very little from the historical  point of view. This sixth month marks the beginning of the fulfillment of God's promises.

Therefore, we had a human history, but here begins the history of God, the history of  salvation, the history of the gestures of the manifestation of the ultimate revelation of his  love. So, the new time, the time of the fulfillment of the promises, has begun. So much  regarding the time.... 

Now the place: Nazareth is a tiny village, so much so that it is not mentioned in the Old  Testament. At my back, you see a picture from 150 years ago. In the center is the Franciscan  church of the 1700’s which no longer exists. It has been replaced by the basilica that we know  very well by the pictures. You can see at the back those mountains that form the  amphitheater around Nazareth, which rose to the center of those mountains.  

And in those mountains were the fields of cultivation of the farmers, of the peasants of  Nazareth. This insignificant village had already been inhabited since 2000 B.C. There are  archaeological remains—the pottery of that time. Then from 600 onwards it had been  abandoned for four centuries. No one dwelled there. Weeds and thorns grew there. Only  around 200 B.C. it began again to be inhabited. We understand, therefore, how nobody took  it into consideration. Inhabited by simple people, little instructed ... about 150 people.  

It was off the major trade routes, especially those coming out of Damascus to the shores  of the Mediterranean: Caesarea, Jaffa. Recall also what Nathanael replied to Philip who was  very enthusiastic: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (Jn 1:16). 

Then: Galilee. Galilee is not Judea. Judea was the region where the pure people lived. The  Galilee was inhabited by unfaithful people, half pagan, despised by the inhabitants of  Jerusalem. God does not look at the important places, the city of Jerusalem, but he looks at  an insignificant village. Time is not of the history of the great of this world but the history of  God. And we are invited today to make our choices: In what story do you want to become  great? The one of Caesar Augustus, of the foundation of Rome, of Herod the Great or do you  want to be important in the new history?  

The way to become important is different and we must respond to this drive that God  has placed within ourselves to be 'important'. One can be important according to the history  of the great of this world, who are criminals and violent or be great according to the light that  comes from the Son of God, the son of the virgin Mary. God's choices are the small things of  this world: the barren sin of Elizabeth, which began the realization of the promises of God;  then we see a virgin. 

An angel appeared "to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the family of David; the virgin's name was Mary." Twice it is insisted on this condition of Mary. Biological virginity  is out of the question. The virgin birth of the Son of God is out of the question. The Church  has always believed in this sign, in this creative gesture of God who wanted to give the signal that the only begotten Son of the Most High, of the Father of heaven has entered into the  world. The term 'virgin' used by the evangelist Luke does not have only the biological  meaning. 

More than that, the evangelist is interested in the biblical meaning of 'virgin' because in  the context of the Old Middle East virginity was not appreciated, it was motherhood to give  importance to the woman. In fact, we must keep in mind something else to understand the  message of the evangelist. Israel was called a 'virgin'. When is it that Israel (which is feminine)  was called 'virgin'? Not when she was glorious, applauded by all, when she was strong, when  the neighboring towns were interested in her, respecting her… NO. But when she was  humiliated, when she was not counting at all, she was called a virgin, because the virgin does  not give life if she does not join the husband. 

Here I quote some texts from the prophets which the evangelist clearly alludes to. For  example, Jeremiah says: "Even if our faults accuse us, you Lord, work for the glory of your  Name. In truth, many have been our rebellions and great is our sin against you. Hope of Israel,  Lord… do not forsake us!” (Jer 14:7-8). "If I walk out into the field, look! Those slain by the  sword, if I enter the city, look! Victims of famine” (Jer 14:18). To this sad situation, the virgin  Israel is reduced. A woman who remained a virgin for life was despised because it meant that  she was incapable of giving life. No one took her into consideration. When one says 'virgin  Israel' it means that she is reduced to destruction, she has been humiliated. Again, Jeremiah:  "Truly horrible things virgin Israel has done! (Jer 18,13). 

Then the lamentations of Jeremiah: "To what can I compare you. O daughter Jerusalem?  What example can I give in order to comfort you, virgin daughter Zion? For your breach is as  wide as the sea; who could heal you?" (Lam 2:13). Then the promise made by Jeremiah: "Again I will build you, and you shall stay built, virgin Israel; carrying your festive tambourines,  you shall go forth dancing with merrymakers” (Jer 31,4). 

When the evangelist insists on this aspect of Mary's virginity, it is not primarily concerned with biological virginity. She did not go to live with Joseph; she was a virgin and conceived as  a virgin, but here is another virginity; as the sterility of Elizabeth's womb indicates the  condition of humanity, here indicates the situation of an entire people that if she does not  find her husband, the only one, who is the Lord, she remains barren, does not give life. In fact,  Mary, when she proclaims her 'Magnificat', will say: "She has watched the humility of her  servant” … Israel… And he has done great things in it, which the one who is great and mighty.”  It is not beauty that has attracted him, but her fragility, her humiliation, her weakness, her  nullity ... and it is He who does great things. This is an important message because God's gaze  turns to poor humanity, that He enriches with His love, fills her with life because He loves her. 

And I will say that the daughter of Zion comes to be in Mary a symbol because she assumes  the face of a woman, a virgin: Mary. And in Mary all the prophecies that were made to the  virgin Israel are realized. 

Then we are told the name of the young woman as she was known by all in Nazareth. It  is one of the many 'Miriam'. We know this because they are quoted several times in the  Gospel. It was a very common name. We know that names have their fashion and at that time  all the families had a girl who was called Miriam: Mary of Magdala, Mary of Bethany, Mary of  James ... all mentioned in the Gospel.  

And there is another reason: 'Miriam' was the favorite woman of the famous man of that  time, Herod: 'Mariame'. The meaning of the name 'Mary' comes from the root 'rumram'  meaning 'lofty', 'princess'. A name suitable for the mother of Jesus. The words of the angel:  "Rejoice, beloved of the Lord." This name along with all other expressions used by the  evangelist: "The Lord is with you," “Do not fear” are all expressions that the angel has not  learned from heaven before talking to Mary. 

The evangelist has put into the mouth of the angel words taken from the Old Testament  prophets. It is very important, especially, the word 'rejoice' because Χα?ρε 'Jaire' in Greek,  ????' Roni' in Hebrew, it is always used only for the virgin Israel. It is to her that this invitation  to burst with joy is addressed. Especially there are two great prophets, Zephaniah and  Zechariah.  

Zephaniah said: “Shout for joy, daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, Israel! Be glad and exult with  all your heart, daughter Jerusalem. The Lord, your God is in your midst, a mighty savior, who  will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, who will sing joyfully because of you, as on festival days” (Sof 3:14,17). And then Zacharias: "Rejoice, exult daughter of Zion"  (Zech 2,11), "Rejoice in the city of Zion, shout for joy in Jerusalem" (Zech 9:9). Let us say clearly who this "daughter Zion" was: it was that neighborhood which was in  the northern part of Jerusalem. It appeared in the seventh century, with the refugees who  had escaped from Samaria, during the Assyrian invasion, and were received in Jerusalem by  Hezekiah king of Israel. He had enlarged the city, but this was the poorest part and this  neighborhood was called the 'daughter of Jerusalem'. And it is to this poor quarter that the  prophets had addressed the invitation: "Rejoice, look to your coming king: just, victorious,  humble, riding a donkey ... he will destroy the chariots of Ephraim" (Zech 9:9-10). These are all the promises indicating where the Lord will go: to the womb of this despised  virgin that is Zion. Returning to this oracle, placed in the mouth of Gabriel, the heavenly  messenger directs this greeting not only to Mary, but to all Israel and through Israel this  salutation is for all humanity. Let us reflect on the history of humanity: history of violence,  aggression, of crimes. 

A humanity that should be hated by God, instead, after all that has happened, God  returns to humanity only this greeting: Rejoice ... not because you are beautiful, but because  you are loved by God and we know that love brings life when the husband (who is God) finds  a womb that receives Him, which is humanity, which is Mary representing the condition of all  humanity. Humanity is loved by God. "When Maria heard it, she was puzzled and wondered  what kind of greeting that was." She was puzzled not by the vision, but by the word. 

Zachariah had been troubled by the vision, but not Mary. The word that refers to her role and she does not understand what mission God is calling her. "Do not worry." In the Old  Testament, this expression is addressed to people who are called to a very important and  difficult task. The Lord says: "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God." "Behold, thou shall conceive and bear a son, whom you shall call Jesus." It is interesting the  word which begets the Son of God in Mary. "You will call him Jesus." We know that in Israel  the name of God was unpronounceable. Now the Son of God, the God-with-us, has a name. And we all know what it means: 'the one who saves' - 'JESUS '. 

In the Old Testament the subject of this verb 'to save' is always God or his mediator. The  name that identifies the son of Mary is 'the one who saves'. This is his identity. He does not  come to judge or condemn, only to save. And then the angel presents the child: "He will be  great, bear the title of Son of the Most High." This name: 'Most High' 'Elion', appears 32 times 

to refer to God: God who is great, who is high. Moses proclaimed: "Our God is greater than  all the gods" (Ex 18:11). Moses said to the Israelites, "The Lord, your God, is the God of gods,  the Lord of lords, a great God, strong, terrible, God, most exalted, exceeding great, admirable,  has an invincible power" (Deut 10:17). What does this name mean when we see it in Jesus...?  Not what people imagined, but as we see him incarnate in the perfect image of the Most High. 

We read it at the Midnight Mass on Christmas in the letter of Titus: God's greatness appeared in a child who needs the caresses of a 14-year old mother... This is our God. When  we imagine this God, very high, far away, who is angry with humanity we do not see him  reproduced in the son of Mary. That is an image that we have invented. When we think of the  Most High, it is not that He humiliates us because we are miserable, but he is high above to  see well and better and needs his children. This is the Most High. In my land we have a very  special expression; when people were in very dramatic situations they invoked God in this  way: "Lord, look down, and look very down, you who are the Most High, who is above." It is  a very touching expression used by the poor of the earth. "The Lord God will give him the  throne of David his father." 

He will fulfill the prophecy of Nathan, who said to David, 'Your kingdom shall be eternal.'  What Nathan understood and what David understood is not of interest to us, but, instead,  what was in the mind of God regarding the new kingdom. Not the kingdom of the great of  this world which are imposed by violence and dominate over the weakest, but will be the  kingdom which will reverse everything. And when the new kingdom is born, when the  kingdoms of this world are reversed, those who were formerly great, are now small, and the  small are the great ones. The one who was right is now wrong and the one who was wrong is  now right. The one who was small is now big, and the one in prison goes to the throne. All  reversed. 

With the son of Mary begins a completely different kingdom: the kingdom of love, the  kingdom of service, the kingdom of the one who gives life, not the one who destroys the lives  of others. "And his kingdom shall have no end." "Mary replied to the angel: How will that  happen? Not like Zacharias who thinks it's impossible that the womb of Elizabeth be fruitful.  Mary only asks 'how', what should I do, How should I behave. If she had been told that she  would have a son with Joseph... St. Augustine says that the story of Mary's virginity has been  invented ... which is something absurd.... It would be strange that in order to maintain  virginity Mary would marry Joseph. She should have gone to a community like that of the  Essenes ... NO. 

She had married to have a family. Mary's 'vow of virginity' is something invented which  does not make any sense. Mary wants to know how to behave, what is expected of her, "God,  what is my mission?" The angel will tell you: your son will not be the product of the Davidic  dynasty. A creative act of God will be introduced into the world to show that your child is a  total gift from heaven. Mary is the model of obedience to God. A truly human obedience. Not  a blind obedience that answers without having understood; NO, first she wants to  understand. 

Let us remember the case of the two sons: one who immediately says YES because he  has not understood; instead, the other says: NO, because he wants to understand. Mary does  not say NO. She simply says, 'Make me understand how I should behave.' The angel explains: It will be the work of Holy Spirit. When we say: 'of Holy Spirit' it means the creative force and  life-giving of God. The same creative force that appears at the beginning of the world. The  Spirit that fluttered on the waters. "The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Then the angel alludes to Elizabeth. It gives her a signal: "And behold, your kinswoman  Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who  was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible." This is also an allusion to the  book of Genesis when the three angels tell Sarah and Abraham: "Nothing is impossible for  God." 

We see, therefore, that this page of Luke is composed of all these allusions to the Old  Testament. A composite page after Easter, because it is after Easter that the Christian  community has understood the identity of Mary's son. Mary's response: "Here I am." This  expression, 'inení' in Hebrew, appears in the Bible 178 times. We find it in the mouth of all  the servants of God, those who before the call of God respond: I am ready ... 'ecomí'. Abraham  – when God calls him: Abraham, Abraham. He responds 'ininí - econí'. What you want from  me I am willing to do. 

I want to conclude by saying that this 'inení - econí' we find it also in the mouth of God. The prophet Isaiah says: "When you call upon the Lord, the Lord answers you' Because He is  the one who says 'inií' I am here to serve you. The Son of God came into the world to tell uswho God really is. It is he who does not make people serve Him, but came to show that he is  the servant of all. He loves us so much that he is willing to do everything to make us happy. I wish you all a good Sunday and a good preparation to receive the light that comes from  heaven at Christmas.

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