Is 7:10-14; 8:10; Ps 40:7-8a, 8b-9,10,11; Heb 10:4-10; Lk 1:26-38
Behold he comes. Behold the Word, who was with God and who is God, is made flesh and dwells among us. He comes to do the will of the Father. The sacrifices and oblations of the past are no longer sufficient. For the one who comes to dwell among us, to offer the standard temple offering is not enough. Rather the sacrifice and oblation that is desired is nothing less than obedience. The ears of the Christ are open because his heart is open to obey. He had no need to offer holocaust or sin-offerings because he is the completely sinless and totally pure. In the written scroll, in the text of the inspired word, the Lord Jesus received his divine instruction. To do the Father’s will is nothing less than the delight of the Lord Jesus, and the Father’s will is a law written in his heart. He came to announce the Father’s justice in the vast assembly; he did not hold back even when it was dangerous to speak. Even when anything he said would have been interpreted as sedition and heresy, the Lord Jesus, the Incarnate Word spoke boldly and without hesitation. The faithfulness and salvation available from the Father through the Son is not hidden from the public discourse. The Lord Jesus has made no secret of the Kingdom of God from the vast assembly. Indeed, all the nations will hear and rejoice! We join with the Prophet Isaiah to behold the sign of the virgin and her son, Emmanuel. With the letter to the Hebrews we too rejoice that Christ has come to do for the world what was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to do; he has come to take away the sins of the world. In the Gospel for this Solemnity we join the Mother of God, our Blessed Lady, in professing our complete surrender to his divine mercy and gracious kindness, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
The attitude of King Ahaz is very familiar. In a time of political and international tension and great threats, the king is on his way to sacrifice his son to a foreign non-entity, to the false god, who demands child sacrifice to demonstrate loyalty. This frightened king is ready to turn to anyone, even a foreign god, to guarantee the survival of his kingdom and his family. The constant irony of idolatry is that it demands the destruction of your children for the survival of your family. This dark and deceptive irony is still part of false religion. Is this so far from the contemporary religious practice of wrapping your children in bombs? One of the few faithful prophets left in the Land dares to approach this nearly mad king with a simple request, “Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!” This word of prophecy did not penetrate the heart of the king, a heart already dark with the shadow of another god. For whatever reason he felt justified in abandoning the LORD, perhaps because he felt abandoned by the LORD. The Prophet Isaiah was giving him, yet another invitation from the LORD, the Only True God, to come back and receive the assurance he needs to stand up in the midst of foreign might with its dangers and threats. This unfaithful son of David, this trembling King Ahaz, will no longer weary the people of God. Neither will he weary the LORD God with his excuses and self-pity. Rather the LORD will act on his own to provide for the weary people and their king a marvelous sign. This sign we still see through eyes of faith. The LORD refuses to be manipulated by our own cries of fear and lack of trust. Rather the LORD, the Almighty God, gives this sign: “The virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us!” Today’s liturgy gives us another glimpse of such as wondrous sign. We gaze upon the most beautiful virgin in the family of man and we behold with awe and wonder that God has taken her flesh and blood and formed a faithful son for his beloved King David. Even though his son Ahaz is disobedient and fearful, the LORD is faithful and kind in this Virgin and Her Son, the obedient and trusting son, “God with us.”
This New Testament letter speaks so clearly about the meaning of the blood. Human blood is seen as the life force in the body. It is precious in the sight of the LORD, and not one drop of blood falls upon the earth without the LORD’s careful attention. Ever since the blood of Abel spoke the truth of his brother’s betrayal—the shedding of blood is not done in secret. We have just been the liturgical witnesses of the public execution of the Lord Christ upon the altar of the cross on the hill outside the gate of the city of the LORD. This sacrifice is pleasing to the Father because it comes from an obedient heart, a heart full of love for the Father and for all his brothers and sisters. Unlike the power of blood sacrifice, child sacrifice, in the cult of Moloch and other indigenous religions, the Body of Jesus Christ is offered by Christ, himself, the great high priest. No one takes his life from him as Saint John’s gospel clarifies; he freely gives himself as the sacrifice, offering, holocaust and sin offering. Indeed, Christ is the Lamb, the altar, and the priest. In him and in his consecration we are purified, cleansed, sanctified for the life of self-sacrifice that is our baptismal participation in his priesthood. Indeed, the Lord Jesus learned in his human family the meaning and beauty of sacrifice, not just the ritual cultic sacrifice of the old covenant. Indeed, he learned how precious is his blood taken from the womb of his virgin mother, and this he learned from her obedient self-sacrifice to the Father in the Annunciation, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
On this adjusted Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord Jesus, we behold the future celebration of the birth of the Promised One nine months ahead. Yet, this bright vision of the Lord’s faithfulness and love for us takes place only one day after the Octave of Easter. Perhaps the glory of the cross and resurrection, the brightness of the Easter Mysteries, can help us to clarify what we celebrate in the Annunciation. In the text of this great feast we hear the angel offering assurances to the frightened Mary though the revelation of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy. The one who was thought to be too old, and quite barren, was already with child and was soon to deliver the “greatest man born of a woman”. Here in the dialogue the Archangel Gabriel proclaims a truth we still need to hear, “Nothing will be impossible for God.” Indeed, does it not seem impossible for a virgin to conceive without having relations with a man? Indeed, does it not seem impossible for a rejected, crucified, and dead man to rise from the tomb? Indeed, does it not seem impossible that this celebration of Easter and the Annunciation would have any impact upon our lives much less our world? We are the sons of David, caught up in the fear of our dangerous and threatening world. We are those who offer ritual sacrifices year after year, but the precious blood of our own obedience we never offer. We, too, are the barren and virginal daughters of Zion puzzled and frightened by angelic greetings. Indeed, in the growing brightness of Easter Glory and in the additional light of the obedient Virgin and the obedient Son within her womb, we hear the good news so long ignored and neglected, “Nothing will be impossible for God.” Nothing will be impossible for our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not even our own conversion, sacrifice, and fruitfulness.