Sunday, December 24, 2017

Let It Be Done To Me: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Fra Angelico, the 15th century Dominican Friar and artist, painted several Annunciation scenes.  But one, called the Annunciation of Cortona - named after where he painted it - is most interesting.  Like the others, it depicts Mary and Gabrielle conversing in a columned courtyard.  And in this one, the dialogue between the two figures is recorded between them (in Latin, of course.)  The Angel announces that the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary and that the Most High will overshadow her.  Mary responds, "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word."  Makes sense.  It's almost as if Fra Angelico is giving us the closed-captioning version.

But what is most interesting, is that Mary's response is written upside-down, left to right.  To read it, you would have to stand on your head and read it backwards.  It is said that the artist never explained why he did it this way.  One guess is that it is directed to God, and so God, from heaven above, would not have to stand on God's head!  For us, though, I think there might be a more inviting explanation.

Mary utters her Fiat, her Yes, her "let it be done," and her world is quiet literally turned upside down. She was betrothed, probably making wedding plans and dreaming about her future "ordinary" life with Joseph.  But God had other plans for her (and for the world!)  God would send forth a Son to save and redeem; God would make possible what was impossible before; God would do something totally new.  And this would turn Mary's world upside-down because she was part of that plan, and with those beautiful words she says "YES."  Yes to God's saving plan.  Yes to bringing forth Jesus into the world.  Yes to allowing God to turn her world upside-down.
One writer commenting on this scripture notes that "She spoke not from a position of ability, but of availability."  And here is what I think Mary offers us today in this Gospel passage.  Just as Mary made herself available to God and to God's plans, so should we.  Even if that means we go where we might not choose.  Even if that means we are taken out of our comfort zones.  Even if that means our world is knocked upside-down. 

We are invited, like Mary, to trust that the Holy Spirit will also come upon us.  That the Most High will overshadow us with mercy, with peace, with love.  We are invited, like Mary, to say our own "Fiat," or own "Yes," our own "Let it be done."  May we be available to God so that God can turn our world upside-down.

Blessings on your Advent (even if this last "week" is really short!)

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