The Annunciation

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, the day when the Angel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary and invited her to become the Mother of God.

Luke 1:26-38

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.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him 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 ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.


It was exactly three weeks ago, even though it feels more like three years or maybe even three decades, when I posted on my Facebook page these words, “On behalf of God, the angels have always said, and continue to remind us, ‘Fear not.’”  In that moment, none of us could have imagined what the next 21 days would bring.  From a few cases of COVID-19 in a nursing home in Washington State to tens of thousands of cases, half the country under stay-at-home orders, schools and churches meeting online, and an insane run on toilet paper, not even George Orwell’s best dystopian dream could have matched what we’ve just lived through.

Today kind of feels like the first day I’ve taken a deep breath in three weeks.  The foundations have stopped shaking, if only for a moment.  We seem to have a plan coming together for how Christ Church will mark Holy Week and Easter when we cannot gather together.  I’m so thankful for wonderful teammates on our staff and vestry.  It is in this moment, where I feel like I can at least breathe normally again, that I’m hearing the calming words of the angel Gabriel in a new way.

“Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”  Mary hadn’t done anything yet.  The flurry of activity and anxiety that would come after she became pregnant out of wedlock was still to come.  In this moment, before the chaos that was to come, before Mary had agreed to anything, before all the work that needed to happen, Gabriel said to Mary not simply, “fear not,” but also “you have found favor with God.”  It is easy, when things feel out of control, when life isn’t what you planned, when fear is all around, to forget that God’s favor rests upon us simply because we exist.  God’s favor is not dependent upon anything we might do, but rather it is the gift that sustains us when times are difficult.  It isn’t just that we don’t have to fear, but better yet, that we can rest comfortably in God’s never-failing grace.

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Image of The Virgin Mary, the Physician, by the Rev. Cn. Frank Logue, Bishop-Elect of the Diocese of Georgia

Some have tried to interpret this most recent plague as God’s wrath for any number of sins.  Others have suggested that it is a sign of the apocalypse.  I wonder if some of the same people who bought so much toilet paper also thought Jesus was coming back soon? Both of these thoughts are based in an understanding of God that is tit-for-tat.  Because this happens, God will do this.  What we know about God from the Bible, and what we hear reiterated in the story of the Annunciation, is that God’s relationship with each of us is based on covenant rather than contract.  Our relationship isn’t, if we are good, God will love us, but rather, God loves us, and we react out of that love.  Mary’s favor with God led her to be able to say yes to becoming the Mother of God.  Doctors and Nurses who are beloved by God are willing to risk their lives to care for the sick and the vulnerable.  You and I, God loves us too, and out of that love, we show love for our neighbor by staying home as much as possible, so as not to share in the spread of the Coronavirus.

“Don’t be afraid, for you have found favor with God.”  I didn’t realize how much I needed those words this week.  I hope they are a source of peace for you as well.  God bless you.

A comfort in perplexity

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The Annunciation by Liviu Dumitrescu

Among the many prayers that are said during The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage in the Episcopal tradition, this one came to mind as I read the familiar story of the Annunciation: “Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.”  The word “perplex” is not one that gets a lot of use these days, and it is a word for which very few of us have a working definition.  It means something deeper than confusion.  To be perplexed is to be totally knocked off kilter by something; to be completely baffled, mystified, and thrown off balance.

In the marriage rite, this word makes sense because life will inevitably throw us off balance.  When entering into a covenant to share life with another human being, it must be assumed that there will be moments when one or the other or both of you will find yourself in a state of perplexity, needing desperately someone to come alongside and help you find your footing.  It might come in the doctor’s office, the boardroom, or by way of a phone call in the middle of the night, but it seems likely that for everyone, a moment of perplexity will come.  So, we pray that the couple might serve the other in those moments as a counselor, one who will offer wisdom beyond the immediate circumstances of life, in order to rebuild the foundations that are crumbling.

While I think that role of counselor is important, and I get that the author of this prayer needed comfort for the antithesis of sorrow, I really think the best role any of us can take on during someone else’s perplexing time is that of comforter, and I think the angel Gabriel is the archetype of a comforter in perplexity.  The Greek word translated as “perplexed” carries within it even deeper meanings of fear and upset.  Mary wasn’t just confused by the reality of an angel standing in her room telling her that she is favored and that the Lord is with her, but she is downright scared, anxious, confused, and totally taken aback.

Rather than working to counsel Mary by offering her suggestions as to how she might overcome her state of perplexity, Gabriel takes on the mantel of comforter with the words that angels always bring to those to whom they are made manifest, “Don’t be afraid.”  He then calls her by name, an uncommon occurrence for women in the Scriptures.  There is something reassuring about hearing one’s name be said aloud.  In calling her Mary, Gabriel assures this young bride-to-be that she is seen and valued.  Even as she feels the ground crumbling around her, Gabriel assured Mary that her core identity is secure.  She is, and will always be, even as she will soon become the Theotokos.  Gabriel then reiterates her state of blessedness, being favored by God. Literally, Gabriel says that she has been found in the grace of God.

Life can be perplexing at times.  It is good to have close companions who can serve as a source of God’s comfort in those moments, and it is a holy assignment to be asked to be a comforter in perplexity.