And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Today, March 25, the Church commemorates the Annunciation of Our Lord, when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her she would be the mother of Jesus.
Two points of explanation I feel are necessary here.
First, for those who are unfamiliar with the festival and the reason for this date, it is exactly nine months before Christmas. According to Philip Pfatteicher, in his New Book of Festivals and Commemorations (p. 143), this celebration seems to have originated in the East in the fifth century, where it is called evangelismos, the good news. By the seventh century, it had eventually gained universal popularity.
The Annunciation falls at an odd time in the liturgical calendar. We are in the middle of Lent, which makes a joyful celebration such as this seem out of place. Depending on when Lent begins, the Annunciation can sometimes take place during Holy Week, which means that the festival must be postponed.
My second point is for those who are familiar with the festival and will quickly note that the readings listed at the top are not the ones we customarily associate with this day. I have chosen to stick with the readings assigned in my devotional For All the Saints (vol. 1, p. 1241). For your convenience, here are the readings most associated with this day from the Revised Common Lectionary. You may click on them to read the texts if you so wish.
Tempted as I am to pull out one of my old Advent sermons, when we hear the Gospel reading from Luke most often, I’m going to stick with the reading from John, which doesn’t mention Mary at all.
John begins his account with three simple words: In the beginning… In other words, for John, Jesus didn’t start with Christmas, or his conception, or even with the annunciation. Jesus has always been.
“In the beginning…” before there were houses, before there were roads, before there even was a Bethlehem, Jesus was with God. In fact, he was the Living Word of God, and he helped create the world…in the beginning…before anything else existed.
John tells us this in order to teach us that Jesus was God. It’s a concept that is so enormous that our limited minds have difficulty grasping it; that Jesus was in heaven, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, but he came down to earth in the form of a human being. The Word became flesh and lived among us.
He walked among the people. Though he was God, he subjected himself to sensations like hunger, and thirst, and exhaustion. He was God, but he allowed himself to be insulted, and teased, and tormented. He walked on this earth for 33 years – an earth that he himself had created – and for those 33 years, He was Immanuel, God with us.
Yet most people never even recognized him. That’s what John’s gospel says: He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him.
That’s the sort of oblivious condition in which people of Jesus’ time lived. God was in the world, yet the world did not know him…He came to his own people and his own people would not accept him. Most people didn’t have a clue. They thought he was wiser than most. They admired his teaching, and they were astonished by his miracles, but they didn’t know who he was. Some said he was a trouble-maker, others said a prophet; few recognized him as God.
But some did! This is how John tells it: He came to his own people and his own people would not accept him…But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.
Given all this, how do we understand Mary’s unique role in God’s mighty plan of salvation?
According to the account in Luke’s Gospel, Mary didn’t know what to make of it; she was puzzled, perplexed, confused, troubled, worried, and afraid. She is, as she protests, still a virgin. Moreover, she is common, ordinary, of little account in her world and definitely not the stuff of legends.
Jesus, the Son of God, is born of an earthly mother. Mary is important, because through her we know that the humanity of Christ was real and true. Mary is the person whom God chose to give birth to the Savior.
God, in Jesus, continues to dwell among us in the form of the Holy Spirit. Yet we frequently fail to see and to know that the power of God is at work in us and through us, shaping us for lives that reflect that amazing Grace and Truth.
Celebrating the Annunciation in the middle of Lent is a good reminder that as God did great things for Mary and through Mary, God can do marvelous things through us.
To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God
This Lent, may we renew and refresh our relationship with Christ and rekindle our trust in that promise.
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