Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
Then I said, “Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
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.
When you pray, who begins the conversation? And where do you pray? Sometimes, we may fall into thinking prayer is entirely our initiative, that we are the ones who have to contact God first, like He’s waiting for the phone to ring. We may also think we need to know what to say, and have a plan about what to ask Him for. Or we need to be somewhere sacred, or quiet, or solemn to pray.
If we do think this way, then we are going to be much dismayed in our current times. Our places of worship are closing doors and suspending our organized prayer routines, as the pandemic and fear of it sweep the globe. With information changing daily and blame being cast every which way, we can be so confused we don’t know what to pray for. But this Solemnity of the Annunciation, our scriptures remind us to take heart, for God is not limited by our misconceptions of how prayer works. Without our asking or bidding, God knows our needs already, is already at work, and has much to say to those who will listen and much to give to those who will ask wheresoever they may be.
In our first reading, we don’t read about Ahaz coming to God in prayer and soliciting a message. We read about the Word of the Lord coming to Ahaz, by way of the prophet Isaiah. God saw and knew all that Ahaz had in his heart, and God had plans of His own heart to be revealed. God not only does not need Ahaz to ask Him for a sign, He even tells Ahaz what to ask. Of course Ahaz still does not cooperate, and even wearies the Lord. But God is not deterred from His master plan, and reveals the great sign that is to come: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name “Immanuel”; God with us.
In our gospel then, we see this sign come to pass. In this sovereign work of God, ages in the making and long foretold by the prophets, again the initiative is entirely on the part of God. We don’t read that Mary prayed to God in the temple and asked to be part of His plan for the salvation of the world. We read that the angel of the Lord appeared to her in her home in Nazareth, and revealed to her how God intended to bring His Son and His Kingdom to earth. Mary asks questions of the angel, but, unlike Ahaz, she never resists or doubts God’s messenger. She hears the word of God, and keeps it. And that word is made flesh, and dwells among us.
What is God busy doing in the time and place in which I live? In my spiritual practices, do I seek to be in control, or do I seek to give God control? Do I approach prayer as though I am giving to or sacrificing for God, or am I giving myself to God and waiting on His word? In these times, am I afraid of what people will do, or trusting in what God is doing?
Today, like St. Paul and the Psalmist, let’s tell God, “see, I have come to do Your will”. And let’s trust that regardless of what we think or where we are, God is in control, and has much to do in and through us, if we only let Him.