St Alban’s Episcopal Church
Friday, March 25, 2022
The AnnunciationThe Announcement
This is actually an interesting name for a feast day, isn’t it? We don’t technically commemorate Mary’s response, but Gabriel’s announcement to her. I suppose there are a few ways to look at that, but one is to emphasize that she didn’t ask for this, or seek it out, let alone try to make “it” happen; the initiation is entirely on God’s side. And less happily, it takes for granted in a way that is not quite fair to Mary or to the scripture, that she would say, “yes.” What if she refused? Could she?
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. (Sixth month? By what reckoning? It’s only March! Hint:-Remember that the Jewish New Year is in the fall…Why do we care that Joseph is “of the House of David” if he isn’t going to be the real birth father?)
And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor, David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”(Wait. Nowhere does scripture say that Mary is “of the house of David.” Only Joseph. So she will only be “of” that line when she marries Joseph. So this baby will legally be “descended” from David – but not at all biologically? Strange, isn’t it?)
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”(Lots of contemporary writers like to emphasize that the word means, “young woman” – true, but if she was already having sexual relations with Joseph – which would not have been uncommon since engagement was a legally binding agreement that did not preclude sex – why would she even say it?And further – Why is she so unimpressed by the astounding future the angel paints for her son?)
The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”(It really does look like she’s being coerced, doesn’t it? He hasn’t asked her permission. Does she hear it that way, I wonder?)
And now your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”(Like Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Like Hannah, mother of Samuel. Surely she knows these stories of impossible pregnancies – and she knows old Elizabeth, too. So now she can hear it differently, as privilege, as part of the ongoing story of her fore-mothers in faith whose children were born when it was impossible – in testimony to God who makes all impossibilities possible.)
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
The real name for this day ought to be -“The Response.” – or Responsionis, if we want the Latin.
God initiates. God makes possible. But without consent, nothing happens. The “yes” is essential. And glorious.
More art of the Annunciation
A Sonnet for the Annunciation
We see so little, stayed on surfaces,We calculate the outside of all things,Preoccupied with our own purposesWe miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,They coruscate around us in their joyA swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,They guard the good we purpose to destroy,A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.
But on this day a young girl stopped to seeWith open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;The promise of His glory yet to be,As time stood still for her to make a choice;
Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,The Word himself was waiting on her word.
Malcolm Guite (priest and poet)The Episcopal Cathedral in Port au Prince, Haiti, had massive murals on every wall. This is one of them – depicting the annunciation. I love it because it has the angel on his knees – recognizing the dignity and faith of the young woman before him.And look at this! The angel actually has taken his shoes off – He knows he’s on holy ground.