The Lord promised king David that the Messiah would spring from his loins. The house of David would produce the Savior and Redeemer, the everlasting king whose reign of peace would endure with the perpetual youthfulness of God Himself.
But, the prophet told the king, it would all come to pass at a future time, when David himself slept. Slept in death with his fathers.
On the other hand, when the time came, a thousand years later, for the fulfillment of this prophecy, the Blessed Virgin Mary was very much awake.
We don’t know what hour of the day or night the Archangel Gabriel arrived. Whenever it was–early morning, midnight, late afternoon, evening time–whenever it was, Mary was not snoozing.
The idea of the Blessed Virgin Mary sleeping–actually, it’s hard to picture. Did she snore when she slept? Hard to imagine the Blessed Virgin snoring. I, for one, do not think she snored.
Certainly, our Lady slept sometimes. I mean, people need sleep. Sometimes she would close her eyes for a little while, and St. Joseph would hold the baby.
But, of all the people who have ever lived, the Blessed Virgin Mary may well be the one we would least associate with the idea of snoozing. Lounging. Lolling around. Vegging. Binge-watching whole seasons of Law and Order, supine on the couch for hours. No.
When he came to speak with our Lady, the Archangel Gabriel found her alert and recollected. Reading, perhaps. Or meditating. Or praying for her family, or neighbors, or future husband. Reflecting on a passage of the Torah, or one of the books of the prophets. Or quietly chanting a psalm to God.
Not anxious. Not agitated. Not stressed. Not buzzing on the first-century-Palestine equivalent of Starbucks or 5-Hour Energy. No. Calm. But altogether awake.
“Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord has chosen you.”
She didn’t say, “What’s that?” or “Come again,” or “Huh?” She heard it very clearly the first time.
Now, what does it mean for a member of the human race to be truly awake?
Our survival of course demands our taking action to provide for our sustenance, so we cannot sleep all the time. We have to wake up and do something to keep from starving to death.
When we bestir ourselves, what do we perceive? Family, neighbors, the world around us. The buzz of tv or the ambient muzac. My own appetites. My own thoughts, my own meditations. My memories. My anxieties.
What about being awake like the Virgin Mary, at the moment the archangel chose to visit her?
Seems like she perceived all the elements of her environment, and her interior life. She perceived it all, and she perceived something else, too.
Seems like Mary perceived that the day–or the night, whichever it was, at that moment; she perceived that the walls around her, her house, her town, her homeland, her family, her thoughts, her desires, her imaingation; she perceived that all of this had a Master. Everything has a Source and Guide and Goal. It all has a oneness, because everything is the work of the hand of one great Artisan.
And this Artisan communicates. This Artisan converses. This Artisan expresses with consummate eloquence the true meaning of… of existence, of why I am here, of why there is something, rather than absolutely nothing. Why there is light, and not absolute, endless darkness.
Listen, I am all for the traditional forms of Christian art and the famous depictions of the Annunciation. If we had eyes to see the Archangel Gabriel, we would probably see that he looks a lot like Fra Angelico painted him to look.
But angels are not material creatues, after all. And they communicate with each other in pure light, with a kind of harmony that makes the beautiful sounds, the most beautiful sonatas and symphonies we have ever heard sound like jangling gongs.
So, maybe when the Archangel came to the Blessed Virgin, it didn’t look like anything we have ever even imagined, nor did it sound like anything we have ever heard. Because we tend to snooze through life.
Maybe what happened was: She was awake and alert enough to hear a harmony in all the things she perceived. In what she could see and feel, in what she could remember and imagine and believe–in all of it, she heard a single song. All the elements of history produced at that moment a song, a sweet lay that opened the next moment up to her, like an eternity in an instant, with this invitation:
“Give birth to the One Who made all this. Give birth to the One Who will bring it all to fulfillment.”
She was awake enough to hold all this in her perception, awake enough to respond with everything–her entire self, completely at her command.
That’s who we are, as a race–the human race. Creatures who can wake up like the Virgin Mary. Who can be awake, like her, to God’s eternal Word.