Today is an interesting day on the church calendar in the Orthodox Church.
Today we celebrate the Fifth Sunday of the Great Fast, commemorating St. Mary of
In the first part of today’s Gospel reading, we hear of Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel. According to St. Luke’s account, Mary is a teen-aged girl, going about her business, doing her chores and tending to the affairs of her house. The archangel Gabriel appears to the Theotokos, and tells her she has found favor with God; she questions him about the report he has just given her, asking, how can this be, since I have not known a man? As her conversation with the angel proceeds, she, more than once, questions the angel, not so much in disbelief about what has been said, but being very careful not to be deceived by this mysterious visitor, as the serpent had deceived our first-Mother, Eve. Mary takes care to try to be certain that what is taking place is, indeed, from God, and not some trick of the devil. Gabriel explains to Mary that the power of the Most High will overshadow her, hence her child will be holy, the Son of God. Gabriel further explains that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, who is much older, is also expecting a child.
With that, Mary responded, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word,” and the angel left her.
Why then, is today such an important day on the church calendar? Why is it an important day for all of us here? What is all of the fuss about?
The answer is simple: Mary said “yes” to God. Mary’s “yes” changed the whole course of humanity. Mary’s “yes” allowed Christ to enter into this world and die for us, and by His Resurrection, to save us.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in our daily lives, how often do God’s messengers interact with us, either physically or mentally, in word or thought? How do we respond? Do we pretend not to hear what God tells us? Do we make excuses or justify why we should not do God’s will? Do we deny ourselves the opportunity to change our lives, and the lives of others? God’s heavenly messengers are all around us; every one of us has a guardian angel to watch over us, so we do the right thing and what is pleasing to God, and yet, our natural reaction is to run from a crisis or confrontation. Where can we run? We cannot run away from God. Time and again, Scripture tells us we cannot escape God and His love for us. The Bible is chock full of accounts of God’s message of love for us. Ordinary people like Abraham & Sarah, David, who Father has been preaching about during this entire Great Fast, Jonah, Job, Moses and Aaron, the Theotokos, our heavenly patron, St. Paul, the apostles and martyrs, and countless others - even Jesus – they all share the same theme; each one said “yes” to God, and agreed to serve Him. These are the proper role models for our kids, not the media hyped celebrities on American Idol, not the multi-million dollar actors, not the mega money athletes. These holy people spent their lives doing God’s will, and all were rewarded greatly.
God promises the same for each and every one of us, for we are told in Scripture “if you would be my disciple, you must first deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matt 16:24)
It should come as no surprise that the Annunciation comes at the beginning of spring, for Mary’s “yes” to Gabriel causes all of creation to blossom forth. In the hymns of Matins, we read, “Let all creation be happy; let nature dance with joy, because the
The Annunciation is also a holy day that almost always occurs during the Great Fast, and appropriately so, for Mary’s “yes” was also a cross, for she suffered during her lifetime. She suffered the shame of those who merely saw her as unwed and pregnant. She suffered fear in searching for her young child who was teaching the elders in the temple. She suffered the loss of her husband Joseph, and finished raising Jesus on her own. She suffered cruelly by watching her son get beaten, scourged, nailed to a cross and killed, never abandoning Him, as all but one of the Disciples did.
Mary is a woman for all ages, because she remained faithful to the will of God. In all of the unfairness of life, she clung to God. In virginity, in motherhood, in widowhood, at home, as a wanderer in a foreign land, with live child, with dead child; through it all she clung to God. She was rewarded for her endurance, for she was raised body and soul to heaven by her Divine Son. What a reward indeed!
Mary did not start out as great; she traveled the lowly path throughout her life. God lifted her when down, fed her when hungry, and because she responded to his loving invitation, God saw to it that all generations would call her blessed.
The message of this holy day of the Annunciation is a sign of hope for us. It is a preview of coming attractions for all who cling to God in adversity. Today the church tells us that what Mary is, so shall we be.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all imitate Mary’s “yes.” Let us accept what God puts before us, whether they be joys or sorrows, and bear them accordingly – for our Lord has promised us that our reward will be greater in heaven. May God bless all of us as we journey on as His Disciples. Amen.
At this time, we will take our collection for flowers for our celebration of Holy Week and our Lord’s Resurrection. We ask for your generosity to help enhance the beauty of God’s temple for the coming feast of Pascha.