IN NOMINE JESU
As I mentioned on Sunday, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, we are taking a bit of a break during this week of the penitential season. The theme for the week has a more joyful tone to it. During Vespers this evening, we continue this so-called break, but for a different reason. We are doing a bit of celebrating this evening as we commemorate the Annunciation of Our Lord. We remember the angel Gabriel who came to the Blessed Virgin Mary and announced to her that she, a virgin, would bear in her womb the Savior of mankind. This is truly an occasion for joy. It is also an occasion for reflection as we contemplate the necessity for such an announcement…and the necessity for the Incarnation of the Son of Man.
But why now? Why are we spending this evening commemorating the Annunciation of Our Lord? March 25 is the date fixed by the Church for this occasion, for this date is nine months prior to our celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord. In other words, it is nine months before Christmas. This evening we recall the angel's announcement to Mary and the Holy Spirit's overshadowing her, impregnating her with the Son of the Highest. This liturgical date has its origins in the earliest part of the Middle Ages. For centuries, March 25 was considered the first day of the year, connecting the beginning of the year with the beginning of the Incarnation. In fact, the early-medieval Church placed the crucifixion on this date, as well as the beginning of the creation of the world. In doing such, the Church sought to connect the creation described in Genesis with the new creation begun on Good Friday and perfected on Easter Sunday. Yet you may be asking yourself what the Annunciation of Our Lord has to do with Lent. Well, it has nothing to do with Lent, and it has everything to do with Lent.
The need for the Annunciation was borne out of another announcement made centuries before: "Did God really say…? You shall not die." It was not the message of an angel but of the devil himself. The great serpent came to the virgin Eve—perhaps not a virgin in the body, for she had a husband—but a virgin in the ways of evil. Both Eve and Mary heard the Word of the Lord, but Eve's virgin ears became defiled with the devil's lies. The evil one seduced and penetrated the first woman, and through her sin entered the world. Eve ate the forbidden fruit, while Mary inwardly digested the words of the angel. Mary said to the angel Gabriel, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word" (v. 38a). The Child she would in nine months bear, the Fruit of her womb, would be named with the Name that is above all other names, the Name of Jesus, which means, "YHWH saves." Mary's Child would grow to save mankind of all its sins, including the sins of the first woman, Eve, and her firstborn, Cain, and all of her offspring to this very day.
We are descendants of Adam and Eve, the first parents and the parents of sin, for it was through them that sin entered the world. Eve begat sin, her desire to become like God, rather than remaining the maidservant of the Lord. She and Adam conceived in sin, Eve's sin of self-idolatry and Adam's in not honoring and defending the wife whom God gave him. They passed their sin on to their children, who passed it on to their children, and the cycle continues to this day. We have inherited the sin of our first parents as well as of our immediate parents. Like the Psalmist, we too were conceived and born in sin. Our nature is inherently sinful and opposed to the will and Word of God. We are not like Mary who, out of willing obedience, asked how she who did not know a man would bring forth a son. We are like Zacharias who doubted the word of the Lord, not believing that he and his wife Elizabeth, both well advanced in age, could likewise conceive. The angel rendered Zacharias silent and unable to speak; the old man was dumbstruck. We too are dumbstruck before the Lord, for we too have sinned against the Lord. We stand before the Lord as condemned as Cain. We have nothing to offer in our defense, for the evidence against us is overwhelming. We are guilty of sinning against the Lord. According to the Law, we are to receive a death sentence. We need to hear an announcement. We need to hear that we are being rescued from eternal death.
This is why the Annunciation of Our Lord took place at Nazareth. This is why the angel Gabriel visited the young maidservant Mary. This is why God promised Adam and Eve a Savior. Had God not made the first promise of the Messiah in Genesis 3, the angel would have made no announcement, and all mankind would remain doomed. But the almighty God in His love for fallen man has given the promise of a Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil. The promise God made to Adam and Eve 6000 years ago and the message the angel Gabriel gave to Mary 2000 years ago is the gift our Lord has given us today: the gift of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
God the Father sent the Holy Spirit into Mary, who remained a virgin throughout the pregnancy and birthing processes, and brought forth the Word who became flesh and made His dwelling among us, "for with God nothing will be impossible" (v. 37). It is not impossible for God to love us even though we do not deserve such love, for God is love. In His love for us He sent His Son to die for us. In our Savior's love for us He took the sins of the entire world upon Himself, dying on the cross in our place. This is why we celebrate the Annunciation of Our Lord this evening and always. We celebrate the birth of the One who was born as one of us but remained sinless. We remember the death of the One who knew no sin but became sin for us. We celebrate the resurrection of the One who overcame the sharpness of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers—to you and to me. This is the announcement I make to you this evening and each time we are gathered together here, that the kingdom of heaven is opened to you, for God has forgiven your sins for His Son's sake; so "rejoice, highly favored [ones], the Lord is with you" (v. 28b). In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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