A Layman Bible 101: The Annunciation of the Lord
Today, the Mother Church commemorates the day our Blessed Lord was conceived. The feast dates back to the 3rd or 4th century. The choice of March 25 is simple: if Christmas is on December 25, Christ, the fathers of the Church believe, has to be conceived on the 25th of March. Yet we all know that no one knows exactly the day Christ was born. And the reason is obvious, no one made a record of his birth and there are no artifacts to carbon date neither the exact month nor the exact day.
Moreover, March 25 is also believed by the early church to be the day Christ died. According to Saint Augustine:
“For He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also. He suffered; so, the womb of the Virgin, in which He was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which He was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before nor since. But He was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.”
This might sound ridiculous to an uninformed mind, but those who understand how the nascent (Christian) community defined its existence as an independent religious group vis-à-vis their Jewish brothers and sisters will understand better the importance of such positioning. As a matter of fact, in “De Pascha Computus”, c. 240 of pseudo-Cyprianic, we can read:
“the coming of Our Lord and His death must have coincided with the creation and fall of Adam. And since the world was created in spring, the Saviour was also conceived and died shortly after the equinox of spring … consequently, the ancient martyrologies assign to the 25th of March the creation of Adam and the crucifixion of Our Lord; also, the fall of Lucifer, the passing of Israel through the Red Sea and the immolation of Isaac.”
At this point, the young Christian community has not yet gotten all the articles of faith we possess today, and the need to build their catechism for the community in quest of its independence and singular identity was crucial.
However, it has to be noted that for those who believe in Christ, the exactitude of the date is inconsequential. And for those who believe in him and yet think that these details are absurd, maybe a look at the prenatal narrative of the Saviour might elucidate the importance of placing the prenatal narrative in time.
In the first reading of this feast, Isaiah 7:10 - 14; 8: 10, we are told about the encounter of prophet Isaiah and King Ahaz. The kingdom of Judah was at the point of being overrun by the King of Ephraim who allied with Judah’s neighbours including the King of Israel. He was so afraid that he couldn’t believe the prophet. And then we were told that the Lord asked the Prophet to make a promise to the obstinate king.
The prophet then announced:
“A young woman (and note well a young woman) will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.”
Around 50 years after the death of Christ, the Lucan community was faced with an identity crisis. Rejected by their people, they needed to understand the divine origin of the Messiah whose way they are now partisans. And knowing that this crisis occurred around 85 years after the annunciation, the absence of a written account of the event forced Luke to feel the gap. No wonder the prophecies of Isaiah came in handy. And Luke 1, 26–38 became its rendition for the Lucan community. The echo of this prophecy of Isaiah is present in both Koran and the Qumran nativity narratives.
The second reading of the annunciation (He 10, 4–10) was not chosen accidentally. We know that the Letter to the Hebrews is a pastoral letter. The author needed to guide this young community confronted with their new reality of being Jews and not welcomed in their ancestral community. They needed to better comprehend their new reality and identity. And the best way wouldn’t be any other than to see the relevance of Christ’s death and his resurrection in the entire history of salvation. No wonder the author reconstructs his Christology on the priesthood of Christ based on the Jewish texts and traditions. And thus, in Christ God
“sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb. 10: 9b-10)
The question we have to answer today is, does the image of Christ we portray fit into our today’s Christian experience? How can we define the realities of today based on the mind of Christ? And finally, are we conscious of what Christ calls today’s Church to live or are we only interested in forcing an outdated model of Christianity on today’s Church?