The Great Yes

In today’s Gospel reading, we read what I always think of as Mary’s Great Yes. Her humility leads to the unimaginable…God becomes human.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. 

And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply, “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 called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. 

There are countless paintings of this scene but I’ve chosen just one, an old favorite.



The Merode Altarpiece, now in the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is from the workshop of Robert Campin of the Netherlands and dates to about 1425. The Annunciation is the central painting of a triptych, or three-part panel, a common form for altarpieces. It is painted in a charming early Northern Renaissance manner, with its rich attention to fabric folds and textures, with details glowingly layered in the new oil paints, and its homely domestic interior. We can see by the odd tilt of the table that the artists haven’t entirely worked out the problem of perspective yet. The painting is filled with symbolism that scholars have had a heyday analyzing. Mary, seated on the floor to show her humility, is reading the Bible, not yet aware of the angel’s presence. The table holds a vase with a lily, sign of Mary’s purity, while the shape of her dress and the light gleaming on it form stars, a favorite symbol associated with Mary.

My favorite detail, and In my opinion one of the most delightful images in art ever, is easy to miss at first glance. At the left side, above Gabriel’s iridescent wing, when you look carefully you can just make out a tiny figure. The infant Jesus is sliding down on the golden beam of light, carrying a cross and posed in a decidedly derring-do manner!


Jesus is gleefully diving down from heaven towards his landing spot, the glowing abdomen of Mary. This is a reminder for me that the Great Yes wasn’t only that of Mary. Jesus also assented to God’s plan and here we see Him eagerly crossing the threshold, breaking through the mysterious barrier between the divine and earthly realms, becoming flesh out of unending love for us. A very great Yes indeed.

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