The collect and readings for the Feast of the Annunciation may be found here. The appointed gospel is Luke 1:26-38.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
“How can this be, since I am a virgin?” This is not a question about sexuality or biology. Mary is not looking for an answer. It is, rather, the exclamation of overwhelming joy, wonder, and amazement. Sometimes we simply cannot believe what is happening to us. It seems to good to be true, more than we can ask or imagine for ourselves. I can picture Mary repeating, almost questioning, in her head, the words of the angelic message. “The Lord is with me? I have found favor with God? I will conceive and give birth to a child? I will name him Jesus? He will be great, the Son of the Most High? A never ending kingdom? How can this be? I am just a young virgin.”
There are moments in every life when we echo Mary’s words, “How can this be?” They are moments of gratitude, awe, and reverence that connect us to something beyond the circumstances of that moment. Recall that first day you held and looked into the face of you newborn child. Maybe it was sitting next to the one you love looking back over the years of life together. Perhaps it was sitting in silence and hearing nothing but voice of God claiming you as his beloved child. Maybe it is the day you really trusted and experienced forgiveness that set you free and offered a second chance. These are just a few of the moments when new life, new meaning, new hope, and ultimately, God’s presence are revealed in the ordinary circumstances of our lives.
These are moments of annunciation. The moment of annunciation is not just Mary’s. It is ours as well. Moments of annunciation are all around us. They happen at what Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, called le point vierge, the virgin point. Mary is the archetype, the symbol par excellence, of the virgin point. She embodies the virgin point showing us what it looks like to discover, trust, and live at the virgin point of our lives.
Sacred tradition says that when Mary was three years old her parents, Anna and Joachim, fulfilled their vow to dedicate her as a virgin to God’s service. They took her to live with holy virgins in the Jerusalem temple. She diligently read the holy scriptures, occupied herself with handicrafts, prayed constantly, and grew in love for God.
Mary knows herself to be a virgin. It is her way of life and being. She declares it to the angel Gabriel, “I am a virgin.” Her virginity is real. It is how she is identified in scripture. It is the title we give her, the Virgin Mary or the Blessed Virgin Mary. She knows her virginity. What she does not know until today is the virgin point within her. For Mary, her virginity is a physical condition and a spiritual discipline. For God, however, it is an entry point, the place God would penetrate her life and fill her being with divinity. Virginity would not preclude Mary from giving birth to God’s Son, it is the means and place by which that birth could and would happen. Le point vierge, the virgin point, is the place where God is announced, conceived and given birth by humanity in this world.
The virgin point is not, however, unique to Mary. It is God’s gift given to all humanity by our creation in God’s image and likeness. This sacred point is given to us despite our sins, failures, or limitations. It lies deep within you and me.
At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billion points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.
(Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 158)
In some way the virgin point is not ours. It is within us but it is reserved, saved, exclusively for God. So we live a life like Mary’s reading holy scripture, praying constantly, growing in the love of God, attending to our everyday obligations with presence, attention, and intention. Listening, pondering, silence, stillness, and solitude become the waypoints on our journey to the virgin point.
In God’s time the Holy Spirit will come upon us and the power of the Most High will overshadow us. We cannot make that happen. We cannot predict when or how it will happen. We can only be awake and present to its happening. When it does happen there is only one faithful response, “Let it be with me according to your word.” This is Mary’s offering of her virgin point, her giving permission, her self-surrender, her bearing witness to the virginity that births divine life.
As we become more aware of and move closer to le point vierge the membrane that separates creator and created becomes thinner and thinner, and the sense of intertwining, union, becomes more and more mysterious until the two conceive and give birth to the God-man, the God-woman. The dignity and original beauty of human nature is restored. We now share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity.
Mary represents the truth of our own virgin point. Her transformation offers hope for ours. Her meeting with the angel bids us listen to the angelic whispers in our own life. Her son shows us who we are and who we are to become. What more can be said, need be said? Only this, “How can this be?”