The Annunciation: To Feast or Not to Feast????

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annunciation-John Collier

The Annunciation by John Collier 

 

Last week I was visiting the FB page for a conference I’m helping to organize for June of this year.

In the midst of commiseration discussions surrounding the stress and anxiety that Lent can provoke, my attention was caught by the following thought from one of my colleagues and fellow event-organizer:

Having a baby in the middle of Lent kind of throws off the tone. Hard to be penitential and abstain when there is so much to celebrate.

Indeed! 🙂

Having a baby often turns lives upside down. Everyone is excited to welcome the newest family member. People take time out of their schedule to visit the hospital, to bestow adorable onsies, gifts, kisses and smiles and hugs all around. If ever there was a time to say Alleluia! I’m pretty sure this is it. 😀

The regular rhythm of life for the family is also interrupted. If there are kids already in the picture, they now become siblings. Mom and Dad are now instantly “on call.” Diapers must be changed, cries attended to, and feedings to provide at all hours of the day or night. Sleeping patterns are temporarily dashed to pieces…..and a whole new way of life begins.

Which brings me to a reflection about the Feast of the Annunciation. This day in our Christian calendar–when Mary finds out that she is carrying a precious baby boy–typically falls in Lent.

The Good News which we remember and celebrate today, is the message of a child who will not only provide the Blessed Virgin’s family with love and fulfillment…..but will in fact carry that love and grace to the whole world; becoming our brother, our friend and our Saviour.

During the 40 day fast, it is customary to bury the Alleluia altogether. Mind you, I have seen parishes in which the custom is to break out the “A” word for this feast and also for the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19th)

So……what is a young priest to do??? 😛

The Feast of the Annunciation is all about the unexpected. Can you imagine being a 13 year old girl who has an angel show up at your doorstep??? Not only that…..but this scary-ass angel is telling you that you’re PREGNANT?!? :P…….

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Mary’s life was forever changed…….whatever way she hoped to observe the Jewish calendar probably fell apart, especially on account that being pregnant meant that she could not fast, even on Yom Kippur.

After getting over the initial terror and shock…..I can picture tears of joy coming from Mary’s eyes……crying Hallelujah! as she goes to immediately share the Good News with her cousin Elizabeth. Excitement and anticipation accompanying every step….. as her soul magnifies the Lord and rejoices in God her Saviour.

Just like Mary, our lives and our plans are interrupted. Our initial intention to observe the fast thrown out the window….at least for today. Today we praise God, the maker of heaven and earth. Alleluia! ❤ +

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Evening Prayer: Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (Michaelmas)

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Psalm: 34, 150
Old Testament:Daniel 12:1-3
New Testament: Mark 13:21-27

Hallelujah!
Praise God in his holy temple; *
praise him in the firmament of his power.
Praise him for his mighty acts; *
praise him for his excellent greatness. (Psalm 150:1-2)

In Biblical literature, angels typically have two roles. As I alluded to this morning, they bring God’s messages to humanity…but they also have a special role in that they praise YHWH continually.

The heavenly host reminds us that we too are called not only to love God and neighbour…..but to give thanks and praise for the blessing of creation. As human beings, we are made in the image of the Trinity and given the gift of life….We are indeed marvelously made and surrounded by beauty beyond all telling.

Tonight….I invite you to join your voice and heart to the song of angels so that from north to south, east to west, from heaven to earth, we may proclaim that the LORD is King and his dominion rules over all. +

Morning Prayer: Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (Michaelmas)

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Psalm: 8, 148
Old Testament: Job 38:1-7
New Testament: Hebrews 1:1-14

Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)

OK I’m going to be straight up with you…..I’m not sure what to make of this whole angel business. For one thing, the angels depicted in the Bible aren’t the innocent little kids with wings, and halos and chubby faces…they’re described more like this:

Cherubim

Seraphim

Far from the cute and cuddly, non?

For another thing, the concept of angels smacks of mythology and superstition. Can I really believe that there is a celestial general named Michael who defeats the powers of evil and carries out God’s will on earth???

Here’s the rub. If I believe in a Creator God (which I do) I have to believe that he–being the maker of the known universe–is able to do anything he wishes. Just because I can’t physically see some creation doesn’t mean it has no existence. I’ve never observed an atom or a molecule in a microscope, and they are invisible to my eye….but I know they are real. It’s the same thing with angels.

Even if I don’t accept literally the descriptions given in the Bible…..there are still times when I must admit to having felt that I was being watched over, protected, and guided by God.

Did God produce this feeling from his own hand? Through the hand of an angelic power? Who knows. Does it make a difference???? I don’t think so.

The source is still the same…..everything flows from the loving hand of God……and maybe the point of angels is not so much that they are these terrifying other-worldly creatures….but that they are agents of God’s mercy and grace. They remind us not only of what we are called to be…. servants of the LORD…but of what we are to proclaim: a message of hope to those who are in despair.

Most of all, they are a reminder that we are not alone….we are not the sole creators of our destiny……that there are forces beyond our control smiling in benevolence and gently guiding us through danger as we follow the pattern of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ

Evening Prayer: Feast of the Annunciation (March 25th)

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Psalm: 110, 132
Old Testament: Wisdom 9:1-12*
Gospel: John 1:9-14

‘I will not enter my house
or get into my bed;
I will not give sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
until I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling-place for the Mighty One of Jacob.’ (Ps. 132:3-5)

The sentiment being echoed here by David matches his earlier desire in 2 Samuel to build a temple to YHWH as a place to store the tabernacle….the place where the tablets of the Law and the Bread of the Presence reside.

Normally you would think that a central place of worship would be something that God would openly endorse…..except….He doesn’t 😛

In response, God mockingly asks the king if he would build a house for the ruler of the universe?? Acting as though the Almighty could be someone who could be contained.

In Christian theology…..Mary, the Theotokos (God-bearer) is said to be the tabernacle of the LORD. In her womb she carries the Word made flesh, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords….and yet that too is temporary.

For nine months our Saviour was cared for by the Blessed Virgin, and yet–like all mothers–Mary had to let go of her identity as an expectant mother once Jesus was born. The Son was no longer inside of her, but was revealed and given as a gift to the whole world. ❤

So I sit here on the Feast of the Annunciation wondering if we are building churches to contain God….or whether we are using church buildings as a place of nourishment, warmth and growth. A place where we are fed with the Word and Sacrament..

Not simply to stay in our wombs of comfort, but to give birth to our own witness of Christ saving the world through the wonder of His cross and resurrection. May God grant us the strength to push past the birth pangs and to rejoice at the arrival of new life. Alleluia! +

Morning Prayer: Feast of the Annunciation (March 25th)

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Psalms: 85, 87
Old Testament: Isaiah 52:7-12
New Testament: Hebrews 2:5-10

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ (Isaiah 52:7)

In my parents parish, the choir used the following paraphrase of Isaiah as the Gospel acclamation during Lent:

“How beautiful upon the mountaintops are the feet of those who bring you Word, and how beautiful in the city streets, are the lips of those who speak your peace”

Kind of appropriate that we hear these words today, the day when a messenger from God harbingers our salvation to a lowly peasant girl in Judea.

But why is Mary important??? What is her significance???? Couldn’t God have manifested himself immediately without having to go through the messy process of birth…or the tedium of getting Mary’s consent??? After all, this is God we’re talking about…y’know…… the one who rules the universe?!? 😉

But God chose to do it differently….God chose to take on the flesh so that all flesh might be healed through Him and brought to God. If the unassumed is the unhealed, as Gregory Nanzianzus argues…..then there was no other way God could act in this situation…..at least…not without redemption being a complete scam.

God spoke to Mary and sought her consent, because he wants all of His children to be free moral agents. One cannot truly love God if they have no other alternative. in that scenario, we are nothing better than automatons :(.

Today we celebrate the fact that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….not only as a corrective for sin, but as the ultimate sign that God suffers and loves just as we do. It is a sign of solidarity that God understands our pain, and that–more importantly– He will never abandon the works of his hands <3. +

Evening Prayer: Eve of the Annunciation

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Psalms: 8, 84
Old Testament: Genesis 3:1-15
New Testament: Romans 5:12-21

The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.’ (Genesis 3:14-15)

As I think most of you know I grew up as a Roman Catholic…….and if you went through the Catholic school system (at least in Hamilton, Ontario) you have most likely seen the statue of Mary pictured above at some point in your life. 🙂

In case you can’t see it all that clearly, it is a serene image of Mary. Her arms are extended in a warm embrace while crushing a snake beneath her feet.

This is a clear allusion to the Genesis passage. Just as Christ is the new Adam who brings abundant Grace and pardon in place of Sin, Mary is the New Eve who resists the temptation to follow her own will…and instead crushes the devil forever. ❤

I will freely admit that I have no particular devotion to Mary but I am starting to appreciate her more as I continue to study systematic theology. 🙂

In Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Annunciation is a dual purpose and (in some sense) a reciprocal event. In becoming Flesh, Christ sanctifies all human Flesh, and yet, in Mary freely accepting the pregnancy, she is the one who gives Christ the tabernacle of her womb…to be nurtured, sustained, and to grow….so that all people might be able to see the face of God. <3. Ave Maria, Alleluia!+

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