Gospel Reflections

4th Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:26-38

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Mary Cluderay

Published: December 21, 2014


Many years ago I was fortunate to be visiting Florence, Italy in the month of August. A memorable experience was my visit to the Dominican Monastery of San Marco. Many masterpieces of Fra Angelico hang in the cells of the Friars and along the staircases and corridors. It was at the head of a staircase, outside the cells of the Friars, that I saw for the first time the original painting of The Annunciation. It bears the inscription in Latin: “When you come before an image of Mary Ever-Virgin, take care to pause and do not neglect to say an Ave.”

Today, as I read the words of St Luke, I am once again holding my breath in wonder at the beauty and delight of the scene. As I gazed at the painting then and now read the words of the Gospel aloud, I experience an awareness like none other of the call from God to ponder deeply again and again the description of this scene in which the Angel Gabriel converses with Mary. The extreme simplicity and directness of the language are striking and the emotions reflect ecstatic joy, fear, reassurance and then sublime acquiescence. The paintings in San Marco are placed carefully so that those passing them can reflect on their meaning and apply the meaning to their own lives.

Although the narrative in the Gospel is short, the most powerful moments are when the two talk together. As we listen to the Angel’s greeting, we realise that Mary does not speak. She is told “The Lord is with you.”  We see the deeply human reaction in Mary who is perplexed and who ponders the nature and meaning of the Angel’s words. We recognise her humility and her fear. We can see in the painting the significance of the gaze that passes between them. The final moment has not been reached and Gabriel, understanding Mary’s unease reassures her: “Do not be afraid, Mary for you have found favour with God.” We notice that Gabriel uses her name in a familiar manner. He implies that God’s favour will give her the strength which she needs. It is at this point that the full extent of the Angel’s message is revealed in great detail.

In reply to Mary’s question, “How shall this be?” we hear those glorious words which solve Mary’s dilemma and calm her fear. It is at this moment that the mystery of the Incarnation is put into words by God’s messenger. We hear about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the overshadowing of the Power of the Most High, and the description of the Child to be born: He will be holy.... will be called the Son of God.

So much emerges from this scene: the conversation, the sharing that Mary is given the only words which she can say. Her words are a response to Gabriel, and the tangible presence of the Holy Trinity! Then Mary says: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Thought for the Week
Look for the signs in your daily life which call you to make God Incarnate in our world.

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