Greetings dear brothers and sisters in Christ on this festal celebration of the Annunciation! Today we commemorate the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary and the announcement of the fulfillment of the expectation of the prophets and the coming of Christ into this world.
The most pure Virgin, who grew up in the temple and most certainly was ministered to by angels, is troubled by the greeting of the Archangel who calls her ‘highly favored’ and ‘blessed among women’. In her humility, she is disturbed by such praise… and yet, the Archangel goes on to tell her the wondrous news that she shall conceive a Child, and that this Child will be the Savior of His people.
In order to fully appreciate the response of the Virgin Mary to this stunning announcement, we must recognize that she was a young lady, most accounts place her at about 14 years of age, and she had been betrothed to her elder relative Joseph. For a young, unwedded woman to become pregnant was a death sentence in Jewish society at that time. The penalty for what could only be understood as having had sex outside of the bonds of marriage was death by stoning.
And so, here is the young virgin, being told that she will conceive… that this Child will be conceived in her womb by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
And now all of heaven and earth are suspended awaiting her response… this is the decisive moment for mankind. God, in His love and generosity toward mankind, grants us freedom… the freedom to say yes or no. The freedom to love and to trust Him or to not.
So many centuries earlier, our foremother Eve was presented with this choice. The devil sowed the seed of doubt in her mind by suggesting to her that God was keeping something good from her. That if she ate of the Tree of Knowledge she would not die, as God had warned. That God was not to be trusted. And she made that choice… the choice to say ‘no’ to God, to not trust in His goodness and love. And the disastrous avalanche of the fall was born.
Now, here, on this day… a young woman is offered the choice to trust God or not. The will of God is suspended for a moment, awaiting the response of this young girl. And listen to her words… ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.’ And at this moment of consent, of complete humility and trust in the goodness of God, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, and our Lord Jesus Christ was conceived in her womb!
What an indescribable miracle this is! Not only the unfathomable incarnation of God, but the generosity and love of God to respect this freedom of our consent to His love!
And this, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is what makes our Christian life both so wonderful and so challenging! For God does not force Himself upon us… He stands at the door of our heart and He knocks. He awaits our consent and our determination to open that door of our heart or not.
This requires faith and trust in God.
It is a frightening prospect to open our heart to God and to say with sincerity and conviction: ‘Thy will be done’. To say, as did the Holy Virgin Mary: ‘Behold the servant or the handmaiden of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy word.’
What will God ask of me? What if He calls me to do something that I am not comfortable doing? What if He calls me to give up something I don’t want to give up?
This is the risk… But if we have faith and trust in God - that He loves us and that He will never harm us… that He will coordinate whatever may facilitate our salvation - then we can dare to make ourselves vulnerable to Him, to place ourselves in His care, to muster the courage it takes to be truly humble.
Humility is key to being able to submit ourselves and our will to the will of God…
I really like a quote I recently came upon from CS Lewis. He said: ‘Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.’ This is brilliant and it is true. ‘Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.’ Most of us tend to spend far too much time preoccupied with ourselves. This can take the form of aggrandizing ourselves and inflating our pride, or it can also take the form of abasing ourselves and moving along the dangerous path of self-loathing. The problem with both of these preoccupations is that it continues to be all about me! True humility, as CS Lewis so eloquently said, is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.
This is clearly demonstrated by the Holy Virgin Mary in her response to the Archangel. Her focus was not on herself, not on the possible consequences that might befall her with this news… her focus was on hearing and following the will of God and trusting in Him. ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.’
The troparion for the feast of the Annunciation says: ‘Today is the beginning of our salvation, /
The revelation of the eternal mystery! / The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin / As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace. / Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos: / Rejoice, O Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee!’
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ… today is the beginning of our salvation! And as our holy father and wonderworker Herman stated, each day and each hour and each minute may be the beginning of our salvation. Just as the Archangel Gabriel announced the coming of Grace to the Holy Virgin and all of creation was suspended upon her response, so too does God and all of creation hang in the balance upon our daily and hourly and momentary choices to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to God.
Through the inspiration and prayers of our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary, may we have the courage and the trust and love to always say ‘yes’ to God.