Daily Homily: I Am The Handmaid Of The Lord

The Annunciation of the Lord

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Isaiah 7:10-14; 8-10
Psalm 40:7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 11
Hebrews 10:4-10
Luke 1:26-38

The Liturgy of the Word on the Solemnity of the Annunciation presents three themes for our consideration and meditation: first, man’s need for a redeemer (Epistle to the Hebrews), second, God’s promise and response to this need (Book of Isaiah), and third, Mary’s collaboration with God in this redemptive act (Gospel of Luke).

The Epistle to the Hebrews criticizes the inefficacy of the priesthood and the sacrifices of the Old Law. The immolation of animals cannot sanctify the people; the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin. Adam and Eve’s sin lost mankind’s original holiness and introduced sin and death into the world. God responds to this sin by promising a redeemer, born of a woman (Genesis 3:15). Jesus Christ is God’s response and he enters the world through his incarnation, seeking only to do the will of the Father. Our sin is removed and we are made holy through Jesus’ obedient sacrifice and self-offering. It is his efficacious sacrifice that replaces the former ineffective sacrificial worship.

This Lent we are preparing for the mystery of Christ offering himself on the Cross as the one unique sacrifice for our sin. Though his suffering, Christ is made perfect in his humanity and can share this perfection with us, his brothers and sisters. In this way, Christ is made our high-priest and is the one who gives us access to God. It is through Christ, then, that we are redeemed, consecrated and sanctified.

The first reading today tells us how this redemption will begin to take place: a virgin shall be with child and bear a son. Historically, the passage from Isaiah can be read as a promise that King Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah, will reign. The context of Isaiah’s prophetic sign is the choice that Ahaz must make between forging an alliance with Damascus and the northern kingdom of Israel against Assyria or trusting in the Lord’s promise that he will save Judah from her enemies.

Israel and Damascus were eventually defeated, showing how an alliance would have proven disastrous. What Isaiah promises, then, comes to pass: first, Judah is spared without the need for the alliance in 734-732BC; second, Ahaz’s son, the good king Hezekiah, restores the temple worship and successfully defends the city of Jerusalem during his reign.

The two readings (from Hebrews and Isaiah) contrast ineffective actions (forging military alliances to defend Jerusalem and immolating animals to sanctify the people) with effective actions – trusting in the Lord and obeying his commands.

Isaiah’s sign, however, goes beyond the promise of an immediate successor to Ahaz and ultimately points to the Incarnation and virgin-birth of Jesus Christ. This is how Matthew will interpret the passage from Isaiah: «Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel» (Matthew 1:23). And the virgin’s name was Mary. This is the mystery we contemplate today. God has prepared this moment from all eternity – the moment when his only-begotten and eternal Son would enter time and human history, not to condemn the world but to save it and redeem it. God lovingly preserved Mary from the stain of original sin and knew that her response to the Angel Gabriel would be one of complete self-offering: «Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord».

We venerate Mary today because of this faith, because she believed God and trusted in his Word: «Blessed is she who believed». We humbly ask her today to intercede with her Son, before the heavenly throne of God’s grace, that we may imitate her faith and total self-offering.

Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at mitchelljason2011@gmail.com.

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Jason Mitchell

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