Luke 1:26-3:39. In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Happy Feast Everyone! Being a mother, and being that the Theotokos became a mother too on this day, this is one of my favorite feasts to sit and think about. Once I had thought about it for a bit, I loved to be able to explain what I've contemplated to my children and my students in terms they might understand. The following is a lesson I formulated for a high school ECF class several years ago about the Annunciation.
In order to contemplate the feast of the Annunciation properly, we need to be aware of the language God uses to reveal Himself to His people. The structure of the story of salvation history can be compared to the building of a multi-story fortress. Throughout the ages, each level or floor of the Church builds upon the others reaching higher and higher toward heaven, our goal being union with God. God uses parallels between the ages of time, we think of these as the lag bolts that connect the floors of the building, to reinforce ourtrust in Him. When we recognize the pattern, we know it to be God’s handiwork. On Sunday, when we contemplated the Veneration of the Holy Cross, for example, we learned that the reason for the tree of the cross, which saved humanity from sin, was to parallel the tree of Good and Evil through which sin came to humanity in the first place. Once again, if we return to the original scripture story of the fall of mankind, we note that the decision of a woman, Eve, caused the chain of events that led to the fall. Now we see that the decision of another woman, Mary, causes the chain of events that lead to man’s redemption. The first woman said “No” to God, the second says, ”Yes”. In the first story, Eve listens to an angel, albeit an evil one. Now, Mary hears the words of Gabriel, the messenger of God. There the angel deceived, (“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”), and now a truth, (“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”). The difference: Eve took it upon herself to decide that God should be “with her” by daring to grasp “knowledge” of Him unworthily, while Mary simply accepted her physical oneness with God, which was her pregnancy, as it was revealed to her to be God’s will. Note the importance of yielding our will to that of God. As you can see, one event essentially corrects the other. We believe that Our Blessed Mother was a virgin when Gabriel made his announcement and that the Holy Spirit placed the child Jesus in her womb while not attempting to violate that purity. We also believe that she actually gave birth to Jesus while miraculously maintaining that virginity. We note this on every icon of the Theotokos where we see the three stars: one on the forehead, and one on each shoulder, depicting her virginity before, during and after the birth of Jesus. But where does scripture speak of the perpetual virginity of Mary? David writes of the silence and gentleness of the placement of Christ in our world. Psalm 71:6 "May he be like rain that falls on a fleece, like showers that water the earth!" In other words, His conception in the womb of Mary was silent and gentle, taking place almost without notice, just as rain falls quietly on wool. Remember when, in the Old Testament, we heard the analogy of rain falling on a fleece?
Judges 6:36-37 Then Gideon said to God, "If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken." This was a signal from God designed to give Gideon the confidence he needed that God would work wonders through him. It was God’s plan that Gideon free God’s people and lead them away from idol worship, back to their true and right relationship with God. He did indeed put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor upon which the dew of God would settle, amid the dry surroundings of the outside world. The dampened fleece was a sign of God’s favor. This gave Gideon confirmation of the handiwork of God in his life, and it gives us that lag bolt we need to see for reassurance of his work in ours as well. When a mother conceives a human child, in the normal course of events, she notices a change in her physical nature almost immediately. Chemical and hormonal events let her know the consequence of her actions, as her body begins to adjust to nurturing the new human being. Blessed Anne Katherine Emmerich tells us that Mary revealed to her that she experienced no morning sickness, no tiredness, no aches and pains associated with pregnancy, only the feeling of “swimming in the enormity of her own person”, and that she felt that it was the Child who carried her. This was no ordinary pregnancy. She was carrying God. This is why the Church determined that we must call her the Theotokos, and not simply the Christotokos. There was much controversy within the early church as to whether or not the nature of the pre-born Jesus was that of man or God, or both. There was a Syrian monk named Nestorius in the fifth century who became the Patriarch of Constantinople. He taught that Jesus was two distinct persons, the “God” person being totally separate from the “man” part. He argued that Mary could not be considered the Mother of God, because she only gave physical birth to the physical Christ, not the God person, which was His second and separate nature. The problem with this argument is that we wouldn’t know which Jesus it was who died on the cross. If it was the “man” then there would be no atonement for sin because he would be our equal. If it was the “God” part he would not have descended to Hades and freed us from sin. This simply could not be. A pious follower of Christ, St. Pulcheria, was the sister of the Emperor at the time, Theodosius II. She asked him to convene a council to address this situation. The Third Ecumenical Council was held at Ephesus in the year 431AD. It was here that the Nestorian heresy was squarely defeated, Nestorius was deposed as Patriarch and sent away. We were from that time on to call Mary the Theotokos, a term we use lovingly and rightly to this day because of the fact that she conceived in her womb a child who was “all God and all man, all at the same time”…my students remember this whenever they make the sign of the cross and tuck those two little fingers under just so!
Now that we know the nature of the child as he exists in his mother’s womb, let’s contemplate Him a little. St. Basil the Great has something interesting to say about the development of Christ in his mother, “… "immediately what was conceived was perfect in the flesh, not the shape formulated little by little". Does he mean that there was no gradual development of little eyes, fingers and toes? It seems that he does. It is clear that His development should be utterly different from that of the average human being because the origin of His human body was not from human seed but from the Holy Spirit. This conception would not be the result of fallen nature, not carry with it the stain of original sin; this pregnancy and the child it would yield, would be unique and perfect. Christ’s earthly body would be like that of Adam, perfectly designed by God, thus we understand Jesus to be the “new Adam”. More “lag bolts”: Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel. Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel. Her seed? Women don’t have seed. They get that seed from their husbands, but Mary had no husband at that time. She conceived by the action of the Holy Spirit…a spirit…no body. No Y chromosome input. All the DNA contributed came from her. Was that to say that Christ was feminine? No. To produce a woman, two X chromosomes combine; to produce a man, an X, and a Y. A Y chromosome is just an X with a branch missing. To make XY from XX is as simple as turning off one branch of one chromosome, instructing the cells to develop as a male. Science is indeed designed by God, let us not be confused, nothing contradicts.
Today, let’s contemplate the Annunciation and the fact that God courted our Lady throughout her life, from her very infancy, and asked her hand in spiritual, and even physical matrimony through his agent, the Angel Gabriel. Like any good man, God asked Mary’s permission before their union, and she was free, due to her free will to answer yes or no. She, because of her predetermined purity and perfection, truly found the choice unnecessary. Her nature made it impossible to contradict the will of God. Today, the Holy Spirit asked Mary to be his bride…and she said YES!!!