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Sunday March 25, 2001
4:00 pm - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Mead

Luke 1:26-38

The Virgin Mother

And Mary said [to the angel], Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

At Saint Thomas we have great respect for the holy season of Lent. We do not interrupt the Lenten observances of each day or the use of Lenten colors lightly. Only two feasts suffice to break the pattern. The feast of Saint Joseph on March 19 is one. The feast of the Annunciation of our Lord Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the eve of which we are observing this afternoon, is the other.

The Annunciation is very important, because it is the actual beginning of our Lord Jesus Christ’s life in the flesh. The Church calendar places the Annunciation exactly nine months before the date of Christ’s birth, from March 25 to December 25, so we see that the Annunciation is the moment of Jesus Christ’s conception as a human being in the womb of his mother Mary.

“Thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son,” said the angel Gabriel, announcing to Mary that she was to be mother of the Son of God. “How shall this be,” Mary asked, “seeing I know not a man?” “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee,” said the angel, “and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.”

This is all wonderful, well and good. But one thing remains. Mary was not some passive instrument for God’s grace and providence, a mere receptacle for a heavenly child. Far from it.

The great nineteenth century Danish philosopher and religious writer, Soren Kierkegaard, meditated on this critical moment in the history of God’s providence, writing in his journals. He said that he could well imagine, the angel Gabriel having proposed the motherhood of God to young Mary, the entire world, the whole cosmos, aching and groaning for the redemption, whispering to her by every means and by all the elements and forces of nature: “Say Yes,” Mary, “Say Yes.”

And so she did, freely. “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” In the words of the great hymn, the “matchless deed’s achieved, determined, dared, and done.”

Saint Augustine said that Christ was conceived in Mary’s faith. Through the action of Mary’s hearing and her acceptance of the Word of God, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Grace met with grace in Mary. God’s own Person, God’s very Self and Essence, took our nature. But he did so by humbling himself to require the consent of a young unwed woman. That young woman was highly favored, yes. She was full of grace, yes. And by grace she said Yes to God. Thus she became the God-bearer, the Virgin Mother of God.

At the beginning of the human race, another woman, Eve, whose name means the mother of all living, said No to God. The medieval Latin writers made much of a reverse play on words. They noticed that “Eva” was the reverse of “Ave,” thereby juxtaposing the first mother’s No and the second mother’s Yes.

Eve took matters into her own hands, stepped outside God’s grace and providence, ate the forbidden fruit along with Adam, and brought ruin upon herself and all her offspring: self-willed separation from God. She became the mother of sin.

Mary heard the Word of God, asked how it could be, heard again the word to trust God, and embraced God’s plan, thereby conceiving Christ and bringing salvation into the world, salvation to all who, like her, were willing to receive God’s grace into their lives. Mary became the mother of the Redemption. The early church fathers called her the New Eve. That is why we call her our Lady, and why the Church also calls the Annunciation “Lady Day.”

Let me finish with John Donne’s sonnet on the Annunciation.

“Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which is always All everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though he there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, Who is thy Son, and Brother;
Whom thou conceiv’st, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother;
Thou hast light in dark; and shut’st in little room,
Immensity cloister’d in thy dear womb.”

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.