TO BE A CHRISTIAN – VII
At Christmas we
celebrate the Incarnation, when
Heaven and earth in little space
became one, as the English early
Tudor hymn (ca 1420) puts it.
Yet, the Incarnation began nine months earlier, in a happening rich with
significance for a Christian life.
Probably the truest, therefore the best, representation of that moment is the
painting of the Annunciation by an artist of no great fame, Domenico Veneziano.
In a bare room, without a prie-dieu or a prayer-book, the angel and Mary face
each other. That she is hortus conclusus,
an enclosed garden, is implied by the wall around the garden, whose door is
shut. The path from it has no footprint.
There is no dove descending in a ray of light. The angel genuflects even as his
hand betokens a request. With crossed arms, Mary bows as though sheltering the
One who is within. She has already spoken her “Behold the handmaid of the Lord”;
already the Lord who sought her acquiescence has found in her his “little space”.
It is a moment of heart-stopping mystical wonder, beauty, and love. Love,
humility and obedience, without which there is no Christian life. In
Judaeo-Christian tradition, the brightest angel, whose mind was nearest to God’s,
fell, “like lightning from Heaven,” as Jesus once said, because he would not
bend the knee to any of humankind. They were, as he judged, inferior to angels.
He would not do it from obedience, nor even for love, and humility was unknown
to the one who became The Adversary.
If the room is bare of material things, it is brimful of love, humility (“let it be done to me,” says Mary, NOT “I accept”), and obedience: in Mary and the angel, and in the One who is unseen but present already in Mary’s womb.
That is what Christmas reminds us of, what it invites us to renew within ourselves. As the hymn concludes:
Leave we all this worldly mirth,
And follow we this joyful birth;
ANNUNCIATION by DOMENICO VENEZIANO
The maiden was at her prayers,
from garden path and barrèd door.
No whisper of wing, no footprint on path,
Gabriel kneels before her,
wondrous greeting giving;
bringing the Word to her open heart.
In time she will bring forth
the Timeless One, incarnate.
But now in a quiet corner
she bows to her God within,
and the angel kneels to both.
©2012 by Ruth Heredia