One day, as Mary was taking the pot to draw water, she heard a voice saying unto her, "Hail, thou who art full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Thou art blessed among women." Looking about she could not see from whence the voice came, so she returned to the house with the waterpot and took up the purple thread and sat down in her seat to work it. Then she knelt in wonderment to pray, for in her own words, as later told to someone through revelation:
"My love for God burned in my heart even more intensely than before, and every day my soul was enkindled with new fervor and longing.
"On the day before the occurrence of this mystery I had thought I would die and my heart would burst with love and longing, if God's Providence had not comforted me. He filled my soul with the firm hope that the Savior would descend from heaven without delay. But on the other hand humility made me fear lest my presence in the world might perhaps delay his coming.
"I was afraid that my lips might say or my ears might hear something against God, or my eyes see something evil. Even in silence I was timid and very anxious to ponder thoughts pleasing to Him. I committed all hopes to God . . .
"So now, I prostrated myself devoutly in prayer, and with the utmost intense love begged the Lord that He might deign to let me live long enough to see his Mother with my eyes, serve her with my hands, bow my head before her in reverence, and place myself completely at her service.
"I began to meditate on the great power of God: how the angels and all creatures serve Him, and how indescribable and immense is His glory. While marveling over God's glory, all of a sudden I perceived three wonderful things:
"I saw a star, but not like those that shine in the sky -- I saw a light that was greater and brighter than the sun, yet unlike any light in this world. And I inhaled a scent, but not one that comes from plants or anything of that kind -- it was an utterly sweet and almost ineffable scent which completely filled my soul and made me thrill with joy.
"Then I heard a voice, but not a human voice -- and suddenly there appeared before me the Angel of God in the form of a most beautiful youth, yet not one of flesh and blood."
Then the angel of the Lord stood before her and said, "Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor in the sight of God." There was a great light around the Angel Gabriel as he spoke to her.
She who had been well acquainted with angels during her years in the Temple found this no uncommon thing, but it was his words which troubled her as she began to consider what such a salutation should mean, for the angel said unto her, "The Lord is with thee. And thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son who shall be great, because he shall reign from sea to sea, and from the rivers to the ends of the earth.
"He shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord shall give him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there shall be no end, for he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and his kingdom is for ever and ever."
Mary said, "How can that be? For according to my vow, I have never known any man." And the angel told her to "fear not, for the Holy Ghost shall come upon you and the Power of the Most High shall overshadow, and that which shall be born of you shall be Holy because it is conceived without sin and being born, shall be called the Son of God. And then Mary answered, "Behold the handmaiden of the Lord. Let it be unto me according to Thy Word."
In her own words again, we hear, "As soon as I had spoken those words, the grace of God overwhelmed me -- never had such bliss and joy been felt in my soul! And then in that ecstasy God the Father gave me His Son, and my Son was instantly conceived in my womb by the Holy Spirit. He took pure flesh in my body, and an inexpressible rapture filled my soul and whole body, knowing the One in my womb was the Almighty." Thus did Mary accept the invitation delivered by the angel, and the Word was made flesh.
Here was the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Esaias. "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel," which means "God with us."
Immediately after the annunciation Mary went "with haste" and entered into the house of Zacharias and Elizabeth.
The trip to the rough hill country of Judea was about a four day journey and not an easy one. But Mary, bursting with the grandeur of her secret, went in haste as it is told, feeling the need to visit a priestly family who would understand such a divine ordination.
For she was the Ark of the New Covenant, bearing over the mountains, and through the valleys of Judea -- not the manna put within the former Ark, together with the Tables of the Law of Moses -- but here is HE who is the true Bread of Life, the divine Law Giver, the very "Angel of the Testament" Himself.
Having wrought her purple material, Mary first carried this to the High Priest at Jerusalem, and the High Priest blessed her, saying, "Mary, the Lord God has magnified thy name, and thou shalt be blessed in all the ages of the world."
Then Mary went on to the Judeah hills outside the city to visit her cousin Elizabeth who had so gently comforted her mother when Anna had been left alone. Tradition says this was a town now called Ain-Karim, about four miles southwest of Jerusalem. Her encounter with this older kinswoman served to clarify God's will and the vast scope of His plan for both of them. It was like a sudden dawn whose startling radiance throws the whole landscape into bold relief. Here it was the landscape of God's Plan.
Elizabeth did not know that anyone knew of her pregnancy, nor was she aware that Mary too had conceived. But Mary's presence lifted the veil of mystery. "And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost, and she cried out with a loud voice, and said: "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke 1:41-45) Thus, God revealed in greater depth His exalted plan for man's salvation. Both women knew now of the greatness of the children they were carrying.
Thus occurred the Miraculous Conception of Jesus. Whereas Mary herself and surely John the Baptist also had been born of an Immaculate Conception, of two holy, dedicated beings, her child had been conceived in a different, and more miraculous way.
Mary could not deny what was revealed to her saintly kins- woman, and paid homage to Him from Whom every perfect gift descends. The light of prophecy flooded her soul, as future ages were spread out before her, and she poured forth the strains of the sublime song now called the Magnificat.
Some of it is made up of Old Testament quotations, as is the prophecy of Zechariah, but, in Mary's day, chants were often improvised among Semitic peoples in times of great joy or grief. And in that hour of exaltation Mary, too, sang her heart out in poetry which has ever since remained as a hymn of praise and thanksgiving.
"My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And His Mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation. He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent away empty. He hath holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy; As He spake to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever." (Luke 1:46)
Mary stayed on with Elizabeth for three months until the time for John to be born, making herself of welcome service, then she returned to Nazareth.
Imagine a place surrounded by a wall so high that men outside do not know what kind of place it is. They try to find out by scaling the wall. As soon as they glimpse the beauty of what is contained in it, they jump into the midst of it and the world knows no more of what is inside than it did before. But suppose one, after scaling the wall and feasting his eyes on the perfection of the place within, resisted the temptation to go further but re- turned to the world and his brethren to share with them the news of what he had glimpsed: That one would be as a savior of men.
The garden let us say, is God. Those who plunged themselves headlong into the selfhood of God and lost their identity in the world would be like the saints. The one who saw God and yet refused liberation and final release from the burdens of the world in order to share with his fellows and lead them all nearer their goal would be known as a savior of men.
Some teachers have been so bound up with their own generation that they have been strangers in the outer world -- like plants which flourish in one zone and die in the next. Their message may have been effectual, but it was provincial; their accent may have been forceful, but it was a dialect. They are the prophets of a day, the leaders of a local cause, the children of their circumstances.
Other teachers, the select few of history, have had such a breadth of thought, such a grasp of principles, such a spring of humanity that their work could not be confined, but has touched the race.
The greatest souls cannot be nationalized, they are cosmopolitans; they need not be dated, they belong to all time. They defy the limitations of language, the paralysis of traditions, and the barriers of geography. What they say is true in the first century and in the nineteenth: it is said with perfect simplicity which is unfettered by any form; it has the universal note.
In this class one places Isaiah and St. John, but above all the prophets Jesus possesses the ages. The Master transcends all the conditions which fetter and localize ordinary men. It were possible for one to live by his words although he did not know where Jesus had been born or how he lived.