A reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent 24th December 2023 by the Rev'd Canon Dean Fostekew

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you ... blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus.”

The annunciation story most be one of the most widely artistically depicted passages from the Bible. In continental Europe you would be hard pushed to find a church without an annunciation painting and in the art galleries of almost every town you are bound to find at least one painting of this episode in our faith. But ‘Why?’ might be a good question to ask.

When you think of it, it is a pretty amazing and almost too impossible story to believe. No wonder Joseph questioned Mary when she told him her tale as to the truth of it all. A young girl, a virgin of about 13 or 14 is visited by a strange man who claims to be a messenger (an angel too boot) from God. He tells her that she will soon become pregnant but not by any human intervention. The Scots phrase; ‘Aye right!’ would seem to be an

appropriate response to Gabriel’s message and Mary’s tale. But if we are to believe the Scriptures then that is what happened and Mary, somehow found herself pregnant.

We could spend many happy hours debating how Mary became pregnant and that fact that in the Early Church (before the third century) many believed that Joseph was Jesus’ biological father but that God worked though him to achieve his end desire. This morning, however, we won’t give time to that debate, as fascinating as it might be, we will instead just accept that Mary became the ‘Mother of God’ the ‘Theotokos’ (God-bearer) as the Orthodox Church refers to her.

It was in Mary’s womb that God chose to dwell. In the first reading from 2Samuel God decides to get Nathan to tell David that he is fed up dwelling in a tent and moving around and that he now wishes to live in a more permanent home – the temple:

6I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this

day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 2 Samuel 7:6b

Not that God is actually going to restrict himself to one place for all time but that God wishes for his people to have a focal point at which to worship him. In directing David to build the temple God is enabling the Hebrews to build their community around him and for the temple to become a symbol for his presence on earth. Just as the figure of Jesus is the fleshly embodiment of God on earth for the entire world today. So successful was Jesus in embodying God that the incarnation has yet to be repeated. But isn’t the concept amazing – God deciding to take on human form in order for us to better understand him and know him. The temple was a focus for God, a symbol and sign but Jesus although of God, lives and breathes just as we do. What a way for God to come among us, through Mary’s womb.

Our God did not come to us as a powerful ruler or King; he came to us as a helpless baby. He came to us as a contradiction in human minds; weak not strong but for God it was the best way to show

himself to us. As the late Fr.Gerry Hughes SJ once said; ‘Our God is a God of surprises’.

And, that God of surprises still has the capacity to amaze us anew each day for just when you may think you understand him, you get a new insight or contradiction that sets you thinking again. We certainly have a living faith and it shows us that we are not a people of a book but followers, people of the ‘Word made flesh’ - people of the living God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Our Book, our Scriptures inform us about God but it is our encounter with the living Christ who shapes our faith. This is why the annunciation is so important for at the annunciation moment God became flesh for the first time and Mary was the first human being to encounter God at that intimate level, deep with herself. Mary is the rôle model for all of us in the way she met her God. We like Mary are also called to be ready to meet our God face to face and like her to be prepared to say; ‘Yes’ to him as she did in her encounter with his messenger.

For me what is important about the annunciation is not how Mary became pregnant but that she did

indeed become pregnant and subsequently gave birth to Jesus, who is our God made human. It is because of this incarnation that we see the annunciation repeated over and over again in works of art.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you ... blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus.

This is a familiar salutation but in fact a mind- blowing one at the same time. As we continue to journey towards the 25th December take time today to ponder on the annunciation and Mary’s role in the incarnation of God and give thanks for Jesus and pray that he will come again as he promised.