The Annunciation -- What Luke Saw

by Fr. Chester A. Burns

It was at Ephesus, that Luke first heard in full the story of the Annunciation. Simply as a child he sat one evening in the home of John, the Apostle, and listened with rapt attention to the story indescribably beautiful -- as told by Mary, the Mother of God. The Mother's voice was soft, like the drone of a spinning-wheel, sweet and musical, like a singing brook in a deep wood. A single candle flickered in the darkness. The surpassingly beautiful countenance of God's dear Mother shone with a white splendor through the gloom.

As the enthralling tale proceeded, Luke raised his hand to shield his eyes from the candle-light. Another instant and he felt his surroundings slipping slowly, surely from him. The Mother's story continued. Her voice sounded Clear, distinct, unmistakable in his ears. But Luke, somehow, in some way unknown, is at Nazareth, within the very room of the Annunciation. The years have rolled back upon themselves. The past has grown into the present. Story becomes actuality.

It is not quite dawn of a chilly Spring morning. A weary and wanly, pale moon hangs low in the west, ready to slip below the horizon when first occasion offers. One by one the stars are quenching their flickering light; a few, only, burn out with never a quiver, instantly. The Morning Star, beautifully poised over the eastern hills, radiates its brilliancy.

Within a tiny room, a girl of simple, surpassing beauty kneels in absorbed prayer to God. Her head is bowed slightly forward; her body held gracefully erect and with no suggestion of strain; her hands, white, like the wings of it dove folded in repose upon her breast.

On and on she prays. The moon, while the world is rubbing its eyes in the half darkness, steals away to his couch under the western hills; the Morning Star, weary at last of striving single-handedly against the approaching day, snuffs out its light and retires. The little room brightens, as the dawn comes creeping into the sky over the purple hills in the east. Still on and on goes the prayer of the maiden. Scarcely does she seem to breathe-so rapt her devotion-as on she prays.

Then just as the matchless glow of the rising sun is bursting magnificently into view above the horizon, the little room is filled with a splendor not of earth. But the maiden looks not up. On she prays, silently, rapturously, even as before. The splendor grows-a dense, dazzling cloud that permeates the room, filling every nook and corner and crevice with its golden glory. Denser, more dazzling, more golden it becomes with the passing moments until just when it seems that human eyes can no longer endure the beholding, it dissolves lightly, and a Being, beautiful as the sons of men can never be, glorious beyond the grandeur of the most gorgeous setting sun, steps forth from its midst and with reverence addresses the maid at prayer.

"Hail, full of grace!" He says. "The Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women."

There is humility in his voice, there is awe, there is a ring of victory, as if the simple maid before him were a queen, indeed, and he her courier faithful.

But the maid's downcast eyes remain modestly downcast. A cloud, as of doubt, of apprehension, sweeps across her brow for a moment. Does she fear words of vain flattery or the possibility of deception? If so, the gorgeous visitor is quick to reassure her "Fear not, Mary," he continues, and his voice rings, like a silver bell, with its note of victory, "for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son; and thou shalt call His name Jesus."

The words fall like a shower of gold at the maid's feet yet she looks not up.

The Angel continues:

"He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever. And of His kingdom there shalt be no end."

The cloud that had ruffled the maid's brow passes now. But not yet is she fully content. At last, and with never a trace of curiosity in her gaze, she raises her eyes. A heavenly blue they are, like the azure sky and the sun-lit sea; depth too, from much gazing into the face of God, and pure, like a field of lilies washed by a gentle rain. Quietly she fixes them full upon the Angel.

"How shalt this be done?" she asks, simply like a child, pointedly, like a sage. "For I know not man."

Again her eyes seek their modest retirement.

With a ring as of final triumph in his voice, the Angel gives his reply:

"The Holy Ghost shalt come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also, the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."

The last barrier removed, the maid's acquiescence is complete. Beautiful to behold is her surrender. With low-bowed head and voice that quivers like a delicate bow from which an arrow has been sped, she gives her unconditioned acceptance of the Heaven-sent message.

"Behold the handmaid of the Lord," she says. "Be it done to me according to thy word."

Luke opened his eyes. He was back at Ephesus in the home of John, the Apostle. The Mother sat before him in the flickering light. She had just finished her story. With affection she looked upon Luke and asked in a tone that was the Mother's only: "God is wondrous kind to mortal man, is he not, my son?"

Full of emotion Luke could only nod his answer. A signal sounded from a nearby room. It was the summons to evening prayer. The Mother rose silently to go. Slowly Luke followed, snuffing out the flickering candle as he passed.