I was recently invited to offer a reflection on the readings for the Mass of the Solemnity of the Annunciation: Isaiah7:10-14, Hebrews 10:4-10 and Luke 1:26-38. Here is what I had to say. – Dr Sandie Cornish
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah foreshadows the incarnation. And he frames it as a sign from God.
There are different opinions on whether the language of the original text should be translated as ‘virgin’ as the Jerusalem Bible and the Christian Community Bible do, or simply ‘young girl’ or ‘young woman’ as the New Revised Standard Version does. It is interesting for us to reflect on what difference, if any, the various translations would make to our reception of this text. We tend to read the text in the light of knowing the story of the virgin Mary. Isaiah’s audience did not have this context.
There is however no doubt about the significance of the name Immanuel – God-with-us – and the child is the focus of Isaiah’s sign. The virgin or young girl is nameless.
In the reading from the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is presented not as a sign, but as the reality that replaces a symbolic ritual that could not achieve what it signified. They sacrificed animals for their sins and yet they were not freed from sin. The blood sacrifices went on and on. We can ask ourselves who and what we sacrifice because of our sins and whether that makes us free? Or do the sacrifices go on and on?
God does not want sacrifices. Jesus was not sacrificed – he chose to do God’s will even if it meant accepting death. That’s how we achieve freedom from sin – choosing God’s will. This is the focus of our efforts towards discernment.
Jesus is not a sign of God with us. He is the Christ. He is Immanuel, God-with-us. Even now he is at work in the world for us and with us.
And then in the Gospel of Luke we come to the familiar story of the annunciation. Here ‘the virgin’ acquires a name, a voice and a choice. Now there’s a sign from God for you! The woman has a name, a voice, and a choice.
Mary of Nazareth says ‘yes’, she chooses to be at the service of the will of God, even if it means accepting the likelihood of rejection by her betrothed, social disgrace, economic hardship, marginalisation and radical vulnerability. She is a scary-strong woman! No wonder people try to domesticate her by making her into a pastel plaster statue on a pedestal.
We pray and we work for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. When women have names, voices and choices perhaps it is a sign that we are moving in the right direction.