|St. Catherine’s Monastery, Egypt, 12 century|
Scripture Reading: Luke 1: 26-38
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. 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.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 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. 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.” 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.
Most of us good Protestants seldom talk about The Anunciation at all, let alone in the middle of the season of Lent. The Anunciation literally means “announcement”. The word itself probably holds no real mystery. But it is the beginning of the central tenet of our entire Christian faith–Anunciation, Incarnation, Transfiguration, Resurrection, that cycle of holy mystery that with each turn draws us closer and closer to God as God reveals the very Godself more and more to us. For us, it begins the mystery that is Jesus Christ, the mystery that will take us to Jerusalem. For us, the fog lifts and there before us is the bridge between the human and the divine.
In December, we usually speed past this reading, eager as we are to get to “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus…” We want to get to the beginning of it all. But think back. Jesus was human and just like all humans, something happened nine months before. And whether or not you take the notion of a virgin birth literally, there was something remarkable that happened. It is in this moment that God steps through the fog into humanity, that the great I AM reveals the Godself to all of Creation, and, just like every one of us must do, waits to be birthed into the world. It is not just this young girl’s womb that is suddenly filled with child, swelling with expectant life; it is all of Creation that now waits for Light to be born. The world is with child.
Can you imagine what Mary must have thought? She was young, she had plans, she had her whole life ahead of her. “How can this be?” we read. In today’s vernacular, it would read, “Are you kidding me?” And so as everything she knew and everything she planned toppled around her, she said “yes” and entered the mystery of God. Now, I have to admit, I don’t get so wrapped up in needing Mary to be a literal virgin. (In fact, I don’t care enough about it to need to prove it or disprove it, so you can stay anywhere you are on the issue.) After all, would it really change what happened? Would it really change who God was or what God has done? Would it really change that this was the moment when the Light of God came into the world, when the Divine suddenly spilled into the womb of the world. And that the one who held the birthing of God in her hands said yes. Now, THAT, my friends, I think is important.
Think about it. What exactly does it mean to be “virgin”? It means undefiled, pure, ready and open to receive. Mary, the virgin, was open to receive God unto herself. The most scandalous part of the whole story has nothing to do with whether or not the birth was “proper” in terms of our world; the scandal is that the great I AM, the holiest of holies, the One whose name could not be said, suddenly enters humanity with all of its violence and corruption and despair and the reordering of our existence begins. All that we know and all that we plan is beginning to topple around us. The Anunciation is the anouncement of hope for all of us.
If God’s incomprehensibility does not grip us in a word, if it does not draw us into [God’s] superluminous darkness, if it does not call us out of the little house of our homely, close-hugged truths…we have misunderstood the words of Christianity. (Karl Rahner)
So, in this season of Lent, what does it mean for you to be open to receiving Jesus Christ into your life? Because, you see, that is the way to Jerusalem…
Grace and Peace,