Today (or rather tomorrow) we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. The Annunciation is that day when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she would be the God-bearer. Nine months after today is Christmas. And so it is today, as John says, that the Word begins to put on flesh (John 1:14), or as Paul says, today he begins to take the form of a human being (Phil. 2:7). Jesus did not descend from heaven into a manager on Christmas Day but was conceived by the Holy Spirit today. For today is truly the Feast of the Incarnation.
Of all the great deeply theological points we can speak of about today, however, the most important point is that today we celebrate a “Yes.” Today we read the words of Isaiah the prophet. Think back to Isaiah’s call, as he is lifted up into the heavenly realm of God’s court, Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord saying “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah responds: “Here am I! Send me.” (Isa. 6:8).
Today we read of that same voice coming through the messenger Gabriel to a young Palestinian peasant girl and asking the same question. The angel appears to her, and like anyone else to whom an angel has appeared, she is a bit frightened. And the angel says “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.” Don’t worry Mary. God is with you, God is pleased with you, and God loves you. Gabriel continues on, telling Mary what God is asking of her. She is to bear the Messiah. Her assignment is to be the instrument to bring about the end of this age and to bring down the ruler of this world. She is to bring God into the world. She is to make God real and physically present in this world. This is her calling.
After Gabriel finishes his recruitment speech, Mary responds in the affirmative. Like Isaiah, whose prophesy she fulfills, she says “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” Mary responds with a “Yes!” Yes, I will be the God-bearer. Yes, I will be overshadowed and filled with the Holy Spirit. Yes, I will bring God into this world. Yes, I will serve the Lord as he has asked. Yes, send me.
But, the Annunciation goes beyond a historical moment in history 2000-ish years ago. Like all things in Scripture, if the events are consigned to mere history, then the events are as lifeless to us as reading about the Fall of Rome or the Battle of Wherever between Army A and Army B. What difference does the historical knowledge of Julius Caesar really make in you life?
But, the question asked by Gabriel of Mary, the assignment given by Gabriel to Mary, the object of Mary’s service is in many ways the same question, the same assignment, and the same object of service asked of us. We certainly aren’t being asked to become pregnant with the very Word of God, but are asked to bring God into the world. We may not be asked to give a literal birth to the Incarnate Deity, but we are asked to make God real and present in this world.
The Apostle John writes “By this we know that we dwell in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit.” (1 John 4:13). It is announced to us, that by his Spirit we live in him but he also lives in us. Through the Holy Spirit, we too have the Word implanted within us. We too are pregnant with God himself, and we too are to bear him into this world.
And the question posed to us, is the same question that was posed to Isaiah and posed to Mary – Whom shall I send? Who will bear the Light of Christ into this world? Who will allow the Holy Spirit to come upon them and overshadow them? But don’t worry. God is with you, God is pleased with you, and God loves you.
Scripture tells us the specific question asked of Isaiah and the specific question asked of Mary. Scripture tells us what their very specific calling into the world is. What is ours? To what mission is the voice or the messenger calling us? To what are we being called to give the resounding “Yes” that Mary gave?
Each one of us may have a different specific calling, but we all share the same basic calling. One of the great benefits of being an Episcopalian is that our Baptismal Rite in our Book of Common Prayer sets forth this basic calling for us all. Therefore, if you wish to give that same affirmation that Mary does, respond accordingly with “Yes, I will, with God’s help” to the following questions:
- Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
- Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
- Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
- Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
- Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?