The Annunciation (c. 1608-1609)
by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
public domain

Advent 4, Luke 1:26-38

Historical Description: 

Unlike the religious paintings of the day known for their traditionally idealized reflection of Christianity, the Italian painter Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) often chose subjects from the streets to be the characters of his artwork. In short, whereas most religious works were “cleaner” in their reflection of humanity, Caravaggio strove for a more “earthly” quality in his artwork.

The Annunciation (1608-9) represents this earthly quality very well. Caravaggio’s painting reflects the depth of the annunciation’s soul penetrating news upon Mary’s life – a young, unmarried woman has been chosen to give birth to the Son of God.

Devotional Reflection:

People often want to hear God’s call in their lives. They hope God will trumpet out some announcement about what job to take, where to live, which major to select in college. Christians are sometimes encouraged by pastors and peers to try and discern what God’s calling is for their life. Interestingly enough though, very often that discerned “calling” conveniently happens to be a positive one for the recipient. I have yet to hear someone proclaim that God has called them to poverty, or to experience pain, or wallow in loneliness. And yet, these are often the crosses God calls us to take up in this life as Christians. When we think about God’s calling in our lives we will often come up with callings that are usually beneficial for us. Sadly though, these callings are often not what God is truly calling us to be.

The Italian painter Caravaggio understood that when God calls us, that calling is rarely advantageous, or beneficial for us, or coming at the preferred time. In The Annunciation, Caravaggio reflected Mary’s calling by God to become the mother of the Christ. Mary is not portrayed in the painting as a woman who was jumping up and down that she would have the Christ, but as a woman who was silently ingesting this very sobering calling. Yes, Mary would accept this calling and yes, Mary would gladly do this calling, but that did not mean this was an easy calling. Being an unwed, pregnant, teenager is never easy in this world, especially in a Middle Eastern culture that greatly frowned upon unwed mothers. Mary was indeed called to greatness; to bear great embarrassment and shame with grace knowing that God’s calling is not always easy or pleasant.

In baptism God calls out to us. He annunciates that we are now His children, that the devil is now our enemy and that for the rest of our lives we will war against our sinful flesh and this world. God does not promise that our lives in this world will be financially bountiful or filled with the passing luxuries of this dying world. What God does promise in this world is that He will give us the priceless gift of faith in Christ and that one day we will receive the treasure of eternal life. God’s calling in this world is great and wonderful, just not in the way this world views greatness. God calls us to believe that our sins really are forgiven. God calls us to believe He cares for us no matter what. God calls us to believe that He comes in bread and wine. God calls us to believe that He whispers words to us in our hymns. God calls us to believe that even after our bones have turned to dust that we will live again. God does call us. He calls us every day to believe in the wonderful things He is doing in our lives.


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