26 March 2016
Homily on the Annunciation
Whose tongue is adequate to speak of what we celebrate today? Whose mind can understand the power and riches and wisdom of God? For today, the One who is begotten from eternity of his Father without mother, is conceived in time of his Mother without Father. Today the one who covers himself with light as a garment, hides himself in the womb of the Virgin. Today the Word through whom all things came to be, creates a new wonder in heaven and on earth, by taking flesh of his most pure mother.
Woman has two perfect states which are opposite each other: the state of virginity, and the state of motherhood. Scripture praises them both: for the virgin can dedicate herself completely to prayer, and yet salvation is found in childbearing. But never before now have both these perfections been combined in a single woman, as they are in Mary, virgin mother and birthgiver of God. She is the glory of virgins and the praise of mothers.
Our first mother Eve, whose name means “life,” brought death to all her descendants when she listened to the Tempter’s voice and ate the fruit and gave it to her husband. But today the second Eve gives herself wholly over to the will of God, and thereby brings life to all by conceiving the Word in her womb by the action of the Holy Spirit. When Gabriel announces to her that she will bear God in the flesh, she answers, “Let it be to me according to your word.”
Our first father Adam, when he ate the forbidden fruit, marred the image of God in us and destroyed the likeness by one act of rebellion. But today the second Adam, the Son who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, restores the image of God for us by taking on our humanity. “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
How shall we respond to the news we celebrate today? Once when our Lord was teaching, someone from the crowd called out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that nursed you.” The Lord Jesus responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” When he said this, he was not speaking ill of his Mother; he was highlighting what true blessedness is, and opening the door for you and me to share it. Mary is blessed because she heard God’s word through Gabriel, and kept it by cherishing it and acting according to it.
Mary teaches us to hear the word of God: to participate in liturgy, and reading the Scripture…to give our attention to the mercy and promises of God. And she teaches us to keep it: not to receive it in vain, but to let it shape our daily life and relationships with each other. We cannot give birth to God. That belongs to Mary alone. But to hear God’s word and keep it belongs to us all.
When my wife and I were in Romania this past summer, we traveled to the town of Sibiel and saw the museum of glass icons. It isn’t easy to paint a normal icon; but glass iconography is even tougher. For the layers of paint must be put down in opposite order, on the back of the pane of glass; and the image must be done in reverse, so that when the light shines through it looks like a standard icon.
Something like that happened at the feast we celebrate today. God reversed the normal order of things to accomplish his holy will. What is impossible for us, is possible with God. And just as the rays of the sun shine through the glass icons of Sibiel, so we, with Mary and all the saints, come to see the light of the the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ his Son.