a priest's musings on the journey
Monday, March 26, 2007
Sermonette: On the Annunciation
“Every believing soul conceives and gives birth to the Word of God. Christ, by means of our faith, is the fruit of us all, thus we are all mothers of Christ.” St Ambrose
I always look forward to the Feast of the Annunciation, not only because we get a reprieve in our Lenten fast, but because I really love Mary. I have such an ardent devotion to her because she is the Mother of God. But more than that, because of her strength, holiness, and character. The stories in the Gospels about her portray a determined, brave, and resolute woman. She is not afraid to push her Son to do the right thing, as she demonstrated at the Wedding in Cana when after hearing Jesus’ unwillingness to provide wine for the party, she instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus asked them to do. What confidence! She is not afraid to follow her Son in the Way of the Cross and to stand by him when almost everyone abandons Him. She is not afraid to say yes to God, even when God asks something of her that is absolutely impossible, like receiving the Word of God into her womb and birthing the Son of God into the world in flesh and blood.
She is a paragon of Christian discipleship; the model of what the faithful life of a Christian looks like. In today’s Feast, she models for us what it looks like to receive the Word of God into ourselves, where it can gestate and develop until it is time for us to be Christ-bearers in our world. The medieval idea was that the Word of God was received and conceived in Mary’s womb as she heard it.
One of my favorite images of the Annunciation is the depiction painted by Robert Campin on the Merode Altarpiece. It shows an embryonic Jesus descending from God, carrying a cross, ready to enter Mary’s ear with the proclamation by the angel that Mary would conceive a child. This metaphor illustrates an important part of Christian discipleship. It describes the exchange of giving and receiving the Word of God to which we all are called. The angel bore the Word of God to Mary as she heard the Word; she received it to bear that same Word to the world. We receive the Word of God in order to bear it to those in our world. It is not enough to receive it; it must be shared, or else it will be ineffective. Mary was not a passive instrument. The Word of God did not forcibly enter her. She had to willingly consent to receiving it and bearing it to the world. That consent is a paradigm for our own discipleship. We too are called to trust that the Word of God that we hear is meant to be given away so that it will effect change and yield new life.
The problem for us is that too many times we fail to hear the Word of God because we are not paying attention to all of the places where God is speaking it. As Mary discovered, the Word of God is not always heard through the words of Scripture. Sometimes it is spoken to us in surprising, even unexplainable ways. Sometimes the Word we hear is hard to receive, and even harder to give life to. Yet, God implants the divine Word into our hearts anyway, so that we, like Mary, can cooperate with God to birth impossible miracles into our world. It isn’t that God needs us to participate; but part of our being in community with God and sharing in the life of the Trinity, is participating in the actions of the divine compassion in the world. When we, like Mary, consent to participate with God, God takes what we have to offer and the Spirit broods over it to bear life. The traditional teaching of the Church believes that Mary received the Son of God in her womb by the Holy Spirit, but the Son of God received his humanity from Mary. God desires this kind of relationship with all of us. We give what we have to God; God uses it to speak the Word of God into the world.
This is not an easy participation, however. It is frightening and dangerous to be pregnant with the Word of God. The Blessed Virgin opened herself up to ridicule and shame. Her pregnancy as a single woman could have resulted in her death. Yet, she had the courage and trust to say Yes to God. She had the strength and courage to allow the Word of God to grow in her womb, accepting the pain, discomfort, and even any rejection that the pregnancy might bring her, until it was time to give birth to the Christ. We can expect a similar experience as we carry the developing Christ within us.
Part of the struggle that we are experiencing with our participation in the prophetic witness to God’s Word into our society is the discomfort of that Word gestating in the womb of the Church, as it matures, awaiting the day of being borne into a fullness of life. We see the embryonic Christ carrying the seeds of racial and gender justice, inclusion of gays, and the elimination of war and poverty; and, we want the births to happen now. And as we get closer and closer to birthing a just society, we groan with the pangs of labor. Yet, each contraction brings us closer to the birth.
For now, it is enough to say Yes to God, to open our hearts and receive the Word of God into our own lives. It is enough to be present to the Spirit, and open to the nurturing life of God which brrods over us calling forth life and light into our world. The birth will come; but for now, we wait.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 2:53 PM
I love Mary... I love this sermon... I love someone else...