"Annunciazione" (detail) by Federico Barocci

“Annunciazione” (detail) by Federico Barocci

This time of year we hear a lot about Mary’s role in our redemption. Between the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the general discussion about the coming of Christmas, the story of the Annunciation is repeated quite a few times.

Of course, there’s a lot to chew on when we consider the scene between the angel and the Blessed Mother.  It’s important to remember that our Blessed Mother said yes to God’s mission with free will.  Love is not forced or coerced.  It is only given in freedom.  Mary, like Eve, made her choice in complete freedom.  For many years, when I was reminded of this, I often thought about “what if” she would have said no. Now I think more about the fact that God asked at all.

Think about it.  God could have saved us any way He chose.  He’s God!  But not only did he choose to save us by becoming one of us, he chose to ask a young girl to be part of the plan.  Stop and think about that for a moment.

How often do we fail to marvel at the astonishing nature of the Christmas story because it has become so familiar?  Perhaps it has become simply a story to us, like a children’s book.  Or maybe it has become just so second-nature we are no longer overwhelmed.  That God, Creator of the universe, not only came to us as a baby, but that he came to us with a mother…that should shock us.  It is something so fantastic-seemingly more like a fairy tale or myth. But it is true.

C.S. Lewis reminds us, “Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.”

There are certain things I wish I could experience with a clean slate, without having heard anything about them beforehand, without having any preconceived notions or understandings.  I wish I could have been with the first discoverers of the Grand Canyon, before anyone had seen pictures of it.  I wish I could taste ice cream for the first time again.  I wish I could watch Star Wars not knowing Darth Vader is Luke’s father. I wish I could see and feel snow for the first time.

And I wish I could hear the Gospel message for the first time.  I want to know what it was like to hear that God had become man, that he was born of a woman, that he was lying in a manger in Bethlehem. I want to be shocked by the astonishing fact that God came into my world because a teenage girl said Yes.

We needed a Savior, but God could save us without us. He can do anything and everything without us.

But that’s not how He chooses to act.  His whole plan—from Genesis onward—involves our cooperation and our participation.

Mary had a role to play, and we see in Luke’s Gospel account that she completely submits all to God: “Let it be done to me according to Your Word.”

In this crucial act—our redemption—he asks for a creature’s participation. Mary participates in our redemption in this most unique way, as she is “above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord.”  (cf. Lumen Gentium 61-62).

But he also asks us to be coworkers with him. It may be harder for us to see, since we won’t be visited by an angel.  His will is revealed to us in smaller, more ordinary ways. But he wants our cooperation and our participation in his work in the world today.

Is that shocking?  It should be.  The fate of the world is at stake, and God wants to use us—mere creatures, and sinners to boot—to bring the message of salvation to the world.  He wants to use us as conduits of his grace.

How does he want to use you today?  Are you open to being his instrument in the life of another?  How you respond to his invitation could affect another person’s encounter with his grace.  Are you willing to be his coworker?

May we pray for openness to his will, an eagerness to do his work, and a pure heart to be daily astonished by the love of our God.

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