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CHAPTER VI.

THE ANNUNCIATION. SUMMER has yielded to the keen blasts of winter; winter, in its turn, is yielding to the balmy spring, and imperceptibly arrives the germinant month of March.

The palm, apple, and pear trees are in full bloom, and load the air with fragrance; and verdure carpets again the valley and the encircling hills, where graze the motley herds of cows, camels, and black-haired goats.

It is the hour of evening, and the west is glowing with departing day. Retiring to the garden, Mary seeks a quiet, favorite spot, commanding all the glorious scenery of her native land, and gazes forth with deep delight.

Far in the north, the broken, undulating landscape terminates in majestic Hermon, and his icy crown now sparkles like diamonds in the evening ray.

Southward, her vision flies from hill to hill, and lights on Tabor's castellated cone; thence glancing south, on bleak Gilboa, and thence at length reposes upon the mellow softness of Samaria's blue hills. Then, sweeping round the westward side of the plain, her eye beholds old Carmel standing sentinel in the sea, bathing his feet in the cool waters, which on either side of him roll their distant waves of molten silver along the gleaming evening shore. Embraced within this mountain girdle, whereof her own rocky heights of Nazareth, from whence she now is gazing, complete the circuit, sleeps in evening light and shade the great battle-plain of Esdraelon, sacred by many a stirring association of ancient story.

66 Who would think,” she asks herself,“ that such a lovely plain has often been, and shall be yet again, all drenched with blood !"

Thus musing, twilight steals on apace, and the distant outlines grow obscure. As she is preparing to return to her apartment, a footstep falls close at her side, and a stranger suddenly stands before her. No external splendor betokens the presence of a supernatural visitant, and, deeming him some guest of her father, she immediately drops her veil.

With what surprise does she listen to the abrupt address of this unexpected messenger, delivered in accents which irresistibly command her deepest attention.

“Hail, highly favored! the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women !"

Now, through her veil, Mary can discern nothing but the tall form of a man standing in the twilight; but the unheard-of things he so royally utters fill her with consternation, not unmixed with pleasure, and she internally whispers,

66 Ah! what can all this mean?” “Fear not, Mary," is the instant reply of this mysterious personage, who seems to read her thoughts, “ thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the highest; and the Lord God shall give unto 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!"

Such an announcement, so plainly spoken to an affianced virgin by a total stranger! With what a strong effort at self-control, and yet with what a faint voice, does she find words to inquire, “How shall this be ? for I am yet a virgin."

The reply to this question is given with such sublimity as at last gives the astonished Mary to suspect the supernatural rank of her visitor. This is that man whose voice like many waters Daniel heard by Ulai's banks, informing him of the four hundred and ninety years that must elapse before Messiah's coming. Those years are almost numbered, and here he stands before her to announce the predestined hour !

“ The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore, also, that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God! And behold, thy cousin Elizabeth hath conceiv. ed a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren; for with God nothing shall be impossible.”

The whole truth of the intelligence now at once breaks

upon her mind, that she is to be the mother of the long-expected Messiah, an honor through all ages coveted by every daughter of Israel.

Overcome with her emotions, and feeling, in the sudden tumult of excitement, only one distinct sense-submission to the divine will, she replies, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word!" And as she speaks she finds herself alone.

I see her throw back her veil, and, sinking upon the turf, gaze upward to heaven in an absorbing revery; for, educated as she has been, the announcement raises her in a twinkling from an humble obscurity to the highest glory possible to woman, whether of that age or of ages yet to come.

Across her memory flashes rapidly passage after passage of the ancient seers, all seeming, however familiar to her faithful spirit, now to come, pointed and dazzling as the lightning, into the very marrow of her consciousness. Mother of a king whose dominion shall be universal and everlasting! Well may her brain reel, and her eye grow giddy, as this thought comes over her in the silent night! And, being human, and not free from the opinions of the day, there must be this sudden blaze of ambitious exul. tation for one moment in her breast.

In far and brilliant perspective she beholds the gleaming standard of a conquering, saintly host. Around that banner white-robed ware riors cluster, sparkling like the myriad dewdrops of the dawn; and there, amid gorgeous triumphal processions, royal palaces, and untold splendors, she recognizes one fairer than children of men, her own son, Author, King, and center of all!

But soon her naturally sedate and well-balanced mind reverts to her own immediate situation; and with a sudden thrill of anguish, she perceives the position she must necessarily occupy in the estimation of Joseph, when the ful.

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