The With-God Life: Annunciation

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.” (Luke 1:26-28)

I once wrote a post asking if January 1st was really a Christian holiday. After all, I pointed out, English Christians for centuries celebrated the New Year on this day, March 25th:

As I understand it, “Lady Day” made both economic and religious sense as New Year’s. Economic: it was near the beginning of planting season, so it was a logical time for contracts to start within a largely agrarian economy. Religious: March 25th is the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrating the moment when the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and told her, “…behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.” In other words, it was one way of marking the Incarnation — God taking flesh as beginning with conception, rather than birth.

Detail of Fra Angelico, "The Annunciation"
Detail of Mary from Fra Angelico’s painting of the Annunciation (1450) – Creative Commons (Vanderbilt Divinity Library)

That history hasn’t stopped me from joining most of the rest of the modern world in staying up until midnight on December 31st, but it does make me pause today and wonder: in the midst of all our uncertainty and anxiety, could the Annunciation be a moment to anticipate God making things new?

Could this March 25th, this Lady Day, be the start of a new year, in ways we can’t yet understand?

But even as I write that, part of me recoils. This morning’s Renovaré commentator, Murray Andrew Pura, recommends that the reader attempt to “place yourself in Mary’s shoes” and “recall a time in your life when you felt the Lord asking you to do something that was outrageous by all the world’s standards.” But I felt ridiculous drawing any comparison between my life and Mary’s. You don’t have to regard her as co-redemptrix to have a high regard for Mary, nor to recognize the vast gap between her circumstances and mine — between the relative importance of her role in God’s story, and mine. Surely Pura’s right that “no one experienced Immanuel, ‘God with us,’ as did Mary, Jesus’ mother. She who watched the Son of God expand her belly and shift his form inside her… this Mary lived as mama to God-made-flesh, while bowing in her heart to the King of kings and Lord of lords.”

Who am I to ask what God’s annunciation — God’s announcement — might be for my life?

But surely Pura (borrowing an image from Martin Luther) is right that, “In his grace Immanuel has been at work in us long before we knew him. Now God offers us the chance to respond, ‘I am only the workshop in which you operate, God. Let it be with me according to your word.'”

“God did put Mary on a pedestal,” explains this Franciscan writer, “and has put all human beings on a pedestal.” For Mary “shows how an ordinary human being can reflect God in the ordinary circumstances of life.”

So this Lady Day, I’ll try to listen for God’s extraordinary announcement about my rather ordinary life. I expect no angel to interrupt my day (not that Mary did either), but I should always anticipate the unexpected from a God who lifts the lowly and topples the powerful, who fills the hungry and empties the rich. Whether through me or anyone else who is willing to let it be according to God’s word, I believe that God is likely starting something new and wonderful today, whose glory will not be fully revealed for months or years to come.

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