Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she was going to give birth to the Saviour of the world. Nine months from today, it will be Christmas Day!

We were planning to celebrate the Annunciation this coming Sunday 29 March 2020. Sadly, we are unable to gather to honour this great feast day and to celebrate Mary’s willing acceptance of her strange destiny. I am most sad this year that we are unable to gather this Sunday because this year we had arranged for a member of our parish to preach on the great event we commemorate this day.

However, Gillian has graciously agreed that I might post her words here as a guest blog. Here is the sermon that would have been offered this Sunday. And how timely it is.

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Annunciation by Gillian Fosdick
(a sermon intended to be preached on Sunday 29 March 2020
in St. Philip Anglican Church Oak Bay, BC)

Today is “Annunciation Day.”

It’s the day set aside on the church calendar to commemorate Gabriel’s “Annunciation”—his “announcement”  – to Mary – that she would conceive and bear a son.

The Annunciation is the commemoration of God’s choice of a woman to bear the Savior of the world  — and of her willing acceptance of that role.  Mary “Fiat’ – Mary’s  – ‘Let it Be’

Caryl Houselander calls this

the season when we celebrate the wedding of the Holy Spirit with humanity, the wedding of the   Spirit of Wisdom and Love    with the dust of the earth. (p. 31)

The date, observed on the 25th of March, places us now exactly nine months till Christmas, nine months before the birth of the Christ child, Jesus.

It’s really challenging to try to open up or unpack such a well-known story.

Every person in this room is familiar with the passage. Every one here has heard it dozens and dozens of times.

It forms the backdrop of our Christmas pageant every year. Last December, Jenni’s puppets were out front, when Yvette Bird read these same words

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. The virgin’s name was Mary.

This brief passage from the Gospel of Luke has been the subject of more artistic renderings than almost any other passage in the New Testament, save the Nativity and the Crucifixion.

We’ve had more than thirty-five of these images on display in the stairwell this month.

The pictures we printed for the display were originally created over a span of more than a thousand years. They were done in every conceivable medium. The earliest images we’ve put up are of pages from illuminated manuscripts. This Bible story was illustrated using gold leaf. Just think for a minute how precious – and how exalted these stories were – when the most rare and costly ornamentation was used to bring the pages of text to life.

but is it true? – that’s my question to you this morning. Is it true?

A minister of the Uniting Church in Brisbane, Australia wrote (on his Blog: PJTheology):

It’s quite fanciful to think that Luke’s fly on the wall account of this miraculous event has any real sense of absolute historical truth about it.

And of course, most agree. To the majority of grown ups, Mary is the Madonna on their Christmas card, seated forever in her immaculately clean stable of golden straw.

But -you – Do YOU believe that this holy angel of God came to a woman  – a child, really – it is fairly much agreed that she was, at most, 14 years old  – that this Angel appeared to Mary and said:

You will bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He 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. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever

A few years ago, I read a biography of Mary – the mother of Jesus. The book messed my mind up something fierce. It was that worst of all combinations – it included flashes of brilliance that were completely engaging — with – what we call in our house – a load of tripe. – utter foolishness.

The book was written by a scholar   – and a very smart cookie. The author knew her ancient languages and she created picture of a peasant girl’s life in 1st century Palestine  — detailed and nuanced – it was riveting.

And then came the foolishness:  the author’s rational, empirical working out of our story this morning: the baby – the holy one, the son of God. To that writer, that scholar, the explanation was simple: Mary had been raped by a Roman soldier.

This clever woman had missed the point of our story entirely.

This story depicts the dramatic entrance of the divine into our everyday world: perhaps because of that, people make the mistake of thinking that it is an “everyday world” kind of story. And so, that’s how they try to make sense of it

But this wasn’t the birth of an ordinary child.

THIS was the birth that divided the history of the world into BC Before Christ and AD Anno Domini  – After Christ.

No other birth of any child wrought such division in the history of the world.

And when the “Anno Domini” calendar was first introduced in 525 C.E., March 25, was made the first day of the new year. This was the beginning of everything. That moment when Mary said, “Here am I – let it be with me according to you word.”

So what is going on here?

Mary has heard Gabriel’s message: she understands that that’s not the way it works – she says – how can this be? She knows what it takes to make a baby. And she knows she has not been with a man.

This is the facet of the story that’s most familiar to us:

Who hasn’t questioned the will of God in their lives? Who, when confronted with dramatic unsettling news, hasn’t questioned God’s plan? Who hasn’t said to God, “How can this be?”

But as Caryll Houselander puts it: Mary’s

Virginity is the whole offering of soul and body to be consumed in the fire of love and changed into the flame of its glory. Mary’s virginity is the wholeness of Love through which our own humanity has become the bride of the Spirit of Life. p. 17

What is going on here?

Gabriel tells us the answer in verse 37   — He says: For nothing will be impossible with God.”

There are subtle differences in the translations of this line. I have a concordance program that lets me look at many different editions. My clear favourite on this one is the American Standard Version – they have rendered Luke 1:37 as

For no Word of God shall be void of power

Isn’t that great??? NO WORD of God shall be void of power.

The Word of God created the heavens and the earth, and it sustains the universe.

The Word is the channel and means by which the power of the Most High comes.

The opening passage of Hebrews is so great on this one: (Heb.1:2-3)

The writer says,

in these last days God has spoken to us by a Son
whom he appointed heir of all things,
through whom he also created the worlds.
He is the reflection of God’s glory
and the exact imprint of God’s very being.
And he sustains all things by his powerful WORD.

Luke’s story of Mary, challenges us to think about who God is and who we are before this God,  — it takes us to the precipice of a vast mystery.

That’s why the story is so important  — because it turns us upside down and inside out. And we stand, with mouths agape just as Mary did: “How can this be?” “How can God become a human being?”

The incarnation establishes something which is completely unique about our faith.  And it is God’s presence in the world that alters the reality of all existence.

Gabriel’s confession that “nothing is impossible for God” finds its deepest meaning in the impossible threads that run all through the story:

Zechariah’s wife, long thought to be barren is expecting a son, a young teenage girl from a small village is favored by the Most High God.

There’s an angel in her room for goodness sake!

There are echoes of this through out the whole of scripture. —  miracles – that contradict and circumvent our everyday-world “laws of nature.”

Let’s talk about Mary’s ‘Fiat’ . . .  because the blessing in this story lies precisely here.  Mary said,

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.      

Everything goes back to that mystery of Mary’s acceptance of the divine Word.

Everything is included within her grace-filled “yes” to God’s will. Mary’s ‘Fiat’ is the surrender of her life of to God.

The whole of the Annunciation story is a call and response—and not just any call  — or any response, but God’s call —  and the perfect response.

The “call” is not, of course — a single moment in a vocation. It is the vocation. To follow Christ after Mary’s pattern is to consent to being called at each moment— It is to respond at each moment with our heart’s full consent.

So – that leads me on to another question to you:

Is this story just about Mary?

In one of the teaching / healing stories in the gospel of Luke chapter 11, we are told that the Lord was ‘casting out demons’ and talking to people – then in verse 27 it says:

While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts that nursed You!

And Jesus responds to her saying

No, blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it.

The same essence is there in the story of Luke 8:20& 21. Jesus was told

‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’ 21 But he said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.’

This idea is also emphasized in the passage that follows immediately after this morning’s reading. Luke tells us about Mary’s visit to her kinswoman, Elizabeth:

 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.

And then verse 45 – this is what I wanted you to look at  – immediately after this, Elizabeth says to Mary:

 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

Anglican priest, poet and theologian, Malcolm Guite writes,

Mary’s earliest ‘title’, agreed throughout the church in the first centuries of our faith, was Theotokos, which means God-Bearer. She is the prime God-Bearer, bearing   for us   in time the One who was begotten in eternity, and every Christian after her seeks to become in some small way a God-bearer,  one whose ‘yes’ to God means that Christ is made alive and fruitful in the world through our flesh and our daily lives.

The one thing that Mary did and does, is the one thing that we all have to do, namely to bear Christ into the world.  Christ must be born from every soul, formed in every life.    . . .

if we are dazzled into thinking that only one sort of person could form Christ in him or her self, then we miss the meaning of our own being. (Houselander p. 18)

the writer of 1st John 2:14 says

The word of God lives in YOU.

Is the story true? If the presence of angels and this account of a ‘virgin birth’ ‘strain your credulities’ . . . . If the narrative is for you anything less than “true” – then . . . perhaps you’ve misunderstood something essential about who YOU are.

Mary’s acceptance placed her completely at the service of God’s will.

And that is our job – that’s what we are called to do: “To surrender all that we are, just as we are, to the spirit of Love in order that our lives may bear Christ into the world” 36

We are all asked if we will surrender what we are,  . . . to the Holy Spirit and allow Christ to fill the emptiness formed by the particular shape of our life.

Mary’s ‘fiat,’ Mary’s surrender, means an absolute trust in God.

This isn’t a trust that will set us free from suffering.  but it will set us free from the fear of suffering. It is a trust which makes us willing to be what God wants us to be, however great or however humble that may prove.

The story of the annunciation is our story

– the story of our confusion and disbelief when God appears.

But it is also the story of God’s faithfulness and immeasurable love revealed in this amazing annunciation:

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.

Gabriel is talking to Mary about the birth of Jesus here.

But in the Gospel of John (1:12) the writer says

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.

Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans 8:14  says,

all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

And in that same passage, he goes on to say (Romans 8:16)

It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

When Mary began to comprehend this new life in her, she praised God saying,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour

So, rather than be dismissive of those things that we don’t fully understand–what if, instead, we consider that indeed, “roughly 2,000 years ago a messenger of God who had a name, Gabriel, appeared in a vision to a teenage girl who also had a name, Mary, and told her she was chosen by God, to be the bearer of God’s Son into the world of human history and time.

My hope – my prayer, is that in this story we see a truth so real that it doesn’t depend on our ability to prove or even to comprehend it.  May we, in grace and hope, join Mary in her song and magnify the Lord.   Amen