One of the great scenes of Western Art is the depiction of the Annunciation. All the great artists have painted this scene, often numerous times; among them Michelangelo and Leonardo, Botticelli and Caravaggio. They all painted this sacred and unique moment in salvation history when Mary said yes to God.
In fact, one of the earliest images we have of Mary is a painting of the Annunciation. It was painted in the third century on one of the walls of the catacombs in Rome. And its surprisingly similar to all those other familiar scenes, we’ve seen a hundred times before. Mary is seated and the angel Gabriel kneeling announces the glad tiddings of salvation to her.
But unlike the other paintings this depiction in the catacombs is different. Different because this is art with a purpose, a very specific and special purpose; because many of those early Christians in Rome faced persecution, relentless and savage persecution. Unable to worship God openly they had to take refuge in the catacombs of Rome were mass was said and the faith taught.
And this image of Mary and the angel had a very special lesson to teach: the importance of doing God’s will saing yes to God.
On the dark cave wall of a Roman catacomb, were Christians cowered in fear and hiding. It was the image of Mary that gave them courage. Courage to say yes to God. To say yes despite the threat of death and persecution. In the darkness and fear of those Roman caves the light of Mary’s faith shone bright, brighter than any darkness. And how appropriate it seems to me that of all painting of Mary to survive from those first centuries it should be this one of the Annunciation.
It is a most precious treasure of the church, and it does what Mary always does and points us to Christ. For that is always Mary’s function to bring us to her son. To be the example par excellence of faith so that in our own Advent longing and expectation can say yes to the coming of Christ; that he may be born anew in our lives our hearts and our homes.
Mary is always our mother and the mother of the church, and we look to her guide us to her son. On this the Fourth Sunday of Advent it is gentle image of Mary, so open to God message who leads us to joy and happiness of Christmas. May we have such an open heart to God.