Yesterday – Monday, March 26 – was the ‘Feast of the Annunciation‘ in the Catholic Church. Its the day when, we believe, Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother, Mary. Traditionally, the Feast is celebrated on March 25 unless March 25 is a Sunday – where it is celebrated the next day.
Some believe that Christ was born in October, but there is an interesting piece here which talks about the validity of Christmas as December 25 – falling exactly nine months after the Annunciation.
So where did the date of Christmas originate? In 386, St John Chrysostom preached a sermon linking the date for Christmas to the date of the Annunciation. He does so in a way that suggests that this was already an established belief. The date of the Annunciation was based on a Jewish tradition that the world was created on March 25, or Nisan 15, according to the Jewish calendar. The Jews also believed that a great man would die on the same day as his conception. The early Christians (who were of course Jews) therefore concluded that Jesus had been conceived on March 25. This made it the date of the world’s creation, and the start of the world’s redemption (and therefore the new creation).
It’s easy. If the Lord Jesus Christ was conceived on March 25, then he was born nine months later on December 25. The date for Christmas is therefore determined by the date of the Annunciation and has nothing to do with the Roman celebration of the Saturnalia or the celebration of the birthday of Sol Invictus.
And for Tolkien fans…
What about Frodo Baggins? Tolkien fans the world over celebrate March 25 as a day of celebration by the reading of Tolkien’s work. Why is that? Because the day Frodo Baggins saves his world by delivering the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom was (you guessed it) March 25. Ladyday–the feast of the Annunciation and the beginning of our world’s redemption.
That aside, there is something far more important about the Feast of the Annunciation – its a celebration of Mary’s ‘yes’. Not only was her ‘yes’ important for human salvation, but it also sets a beautiful example for the rest of us as to how to say ‘yes’ to God’s call.
Mary was young woman living betrothed to Joseph. They were not yet married and had yet to receive the concluding rite of marriage. During this time, she was visited by the angel Gabriel.
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee calledNazareth, 27 to a virgin [r]engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the [s]descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was [t]Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, [u]favored one! The Lord [v]is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and youshall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How [w]can this be, since I[x]am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the [y]holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and [z]she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For [aa]nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the [ab]bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
If it had been me (and it *wouldn’t* have been for obvious reasons!) I would have been pretty overwhelmed at even the idea of an angel coming and speaking to me! But, to have it tell me that I would a) become pregnant without having had intimate relations with a man and b) that the child born as a result of this visit from the angel would be the ‘Son of God’ would have had me in absolute disbelief. I’m pretty sure I would have had a *lot* of questions. Mary, on the other hand says ‘…may it be done to me according to your word.’
What isn’t included in the scriptural references, but is important to understand is the vast implications of this ‘yes’ that display the tremendous courage and trust shown by Mary. At this point in history, a woman who committed adultery would have been subject to the possibility of being stoned to death for her actions. While Mary had not yet completed the rite of marriage to Joseph, she would have been subject to these same laws. For Mary to take this incredible risk, it showed an unshakable trust in God’s plan for her. Her actions called upon her to trust that God would also see fit to convince Joseph of her story.
Mary had to explain to Joseph what had happened and that she had conceived the ‘Son of God’ by way of a visit from an angel. The comical side of me can only imagine how that conversation played out…
We revere Mary for her ‘yes’ and her trust in God, but we cannot overlook the importance of Joseph in the story of Salvation as he had his own ‘yes’ to make. After his conversation with Mary, I’m sure he too had a lot of questions. But, the Bible tells us that Joseph was a righteous man.
And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned [t]to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for[u]the Child who has been [v]conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for [w]He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this [x]took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME [y]IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” 24 And Joseph [z]awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25[aa]but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.
Initially, Joseph wanted to send her away. He couldn’t imagine the idea of her being stoned to death as an adulterer – but he clearly wasn’t sure he could bear the responsibility. He too was visited by an angel and asked to ‘not be afraid’ (recurring theme in the Bible, isn’t it?). Joseph had his own ‘yes’ to make and – thankfully – for all of our sakes, he did so.
The human skeptical side of me asks – “Hmmm, what would have happened if either Mary or Joseph had said ‘You know what, that all sounds great – but a little bit *big* for me to handle so I think I’m going to pass.’?” Silly thought? Perhaps. But God had helped form the hearts of Mary and Joseph so that they would be prepared to say ‘yes’. He had prepared them with a love and trust for Him so that they would be ready for this moment in time in which He would call upon each of them to do something that would change the course of history.
If we fast forward 2000 years and look at our own lives – how many times has God asked us to say ‘yes’ to him in our lives? Tens? Hundreds? Thousands? There are the bigger and obvious ways in which He calls us to Him by accepting him as our Lord and Saviour. There are the bigger ways in which He calls us to chose to accept His gifts of life in the children with which He graces us when we are married. There are the bigger ways in which He calls us in committing to attend Mass on Sundays. There are the bigger ways in which He calls us in committing to raise the children in which He entrusts us as Catholics. There are countless ‘bigger’ ways in which He calls us to say ‘yes’, but there are just as many – if not more – ‘smaller’ ways in which He calls us to say ‘yes’ in the day to day aspects of our lives.
Do we say ‘yes’ to Him by talking with the cashier at the grocery store who is clearly overwhelmed and exhausted and needs someone to stop and acknowledge her and ask her, ‘How are you doing today?’. Do we say ‘yes’ to Him by putting down whatever it is we are doing and cuddle our children? Do we say ‘yes’ to Him by spending an hour of our time in Eucharistic Adoration? Do we say ‘yes’ to Him by offering a smile to the homeless person on the corner of the street? The list goes on and on and on.
We have the chance to change history in our own way as each we are called upon by God to say ‘yes’. We have no idea the impact our ‘bigger’ or even our ‘smaller’ yes can have on others and their lives – and yet we’re all given the chance over and over and over again to do so.
There are so many times I look around and see the ways in which I am presented with the opportunity to say ‘yes’ and have missed it – or even chosen not to do so. But, alas, that presents another opportunity to say ‘yes’ – an opportunity to pray to be reminded of those opportunities to say ‘yes’ and to be made aware of them so that I *can* say ‘yes’ and recognize the importance of doing so in the big ways AND the small ways. Isn’t that also what He wants from us – a chance to ask Him into our lives and acknowledge where we need His help?