lippi annunciation

Lippi’s Annunciation. You can just make out the Holy spirit moving towards Mary’s womb.

It is only by studying the Old Testament book of Exodus and the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews in depth  are we able to fully comprehend the miracle of the Incarnation that took place in the Virgin Mary.

I remember our Old Testament Professor, himself a converted Jew and now an Anglican priest impressing upon us that the Incarnation could only be fully understood by viewing it within the Book of Exodus. The New Covenant is in the Womb of the Old Covenant.

God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle surrounded by heavy curtains ( Ex 25-27). Within the tabernacle he was to place an ark made of acacia wood covered with gold inside and out. Within the Ark of the Covenant was placed a golden jar holding the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant (Heb 9:4).

When the ark was finally completed, the glory cloud of the Lord covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Ex 40:34-35; Num  9:18, 22).

The verb for “to cover” or “to overshadow” and the metaphor of a cloud are used in Holy Scripture to signify the presence and glory of God. Another word for glory is shekinah.

The word shekinah does not appear in the Bible, but the concept clearly does. The Jewish rabbis coined this extra-biblical expression, a form of a Hebrew word that literally means “he caused to dwell,” signifying that it was a divine visitation of the presence or dwelling of the Lord God on this earth.  Applied to Our Lady the “causing to dwell” is extraordinarily relevant.

In the theophanies of the Old Testament, the cloud, simultaneously hidden and revealed manifests the living and saving God, while hiding the transcendence of his glory. This continually occurs  with Moses on Mount Sinai, at the tent of meeting, and during the Wilderness wanderings  and with King Solomon at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.

Through the Holy Spirit’s fiat  Jesus Christ fulfills these figurative images. . The Spirit comes upon the Virgin Mary and “overshadows” her, so that she might conceive and give birth to Jesus. The parallels with the Ark of the Covenant are too great to be dismissed.

On the Mountain of Transfiguration, the Spirit in the “cloud came and overshadowed” Jesus, Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John, and  “a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’” Finally, the cloud took Jesus out of the sight of the disciples on the day of his Ascension and will reveal him as Son of Man in glory on the day of his final coming. The glory of the Lord “overshadowed” the ark and filled the tabernacle.

It’s easy to ignore the parallel between the Holy Spirit overshadowing the ark and the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary, between the Ark of the Old Covenant as the dwelling place of God and Mary as the new dwelling place of God.

God was very specific about every exact detail of the ark (Ex 25-30). It was a place where God himself would dwell (Ex 25:8). God wanted his words—written  on stone tablets—housed in a perfect container covered with pure gold within and without.

How much more would he want his Word—Jesus—to have a perfect dwelling place!  The Sanctified Womb of the Virgin Mary is just that.

The Virgin Mary is the living shrine of the Word of God, the Ark of the New and Eternal Covenant.

St. Luke’s narrative  of the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary beautifully incorporates the images of the tent of meeting with God in Sinai and of the temple of Zion. Just as the cloud covered the people of God marching in the desert ,  (Num 10:34; Deut 33:12; Ps 91:4) and just as the same cloud, as a sign of the divine mystery present in the midst of Israel, hovered over the Ark of the Covenant (.Ex 40:35), so now the shadow of the Most High and Holy One surrounds and  infiltrates the Tabernacle of the New Covenant that is the womb of Mary. (St Luke 1: 35.

“And the angel answered and said to her,  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.

The Son-ship of Jesus is achieved by the overshadowing and penetration of Mary’s womb  by the Holy Spirit. The full import of this is seen in the Transfiguration of Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah on the Holy Mountain.