Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Annunciation of Our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary

This is the transcript of a short sermon I gave for the Annunciation of Our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary on March 25, 2020.

The Annunciation of Our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary


Isaiah 7:10-14
Hebrews 10:4-10
Luke 1:26-38

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  This is the festival in the Church’s calendar when we remember the Angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary and his announcement to her that she would give birth to God’s Son, the Messiah. 

There are now just nine months to Christmas! 

Last Sunday was Mothering Sunday.  As I said in our service for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Mothering Sunday is different to Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day in Hong Kong this year is on Sunday, May 10. 

On Mothering Sunday, we think both of our earthly mothers and our mother Church.  In other words, of both those who mother us physically and spiritually.  Today reminds us that our Lord himself was born of an earthly mother and for many years of his life had an earthly mother to look after and care for him. 

For many that is where the Blessed Virgin Mary’s role begins and ends.  She gave birth and nurtured him, and then our Lord took over. Mary ceased to have any role after that.  For others, the Blessed Virgin Mary also serves a role model of faith, like other role models in Scripture.  This, at least, is an improvement on seeing her only in her role as mother to our Lord. 

This is not to suggest that that role was unimportant! 

At the present time, we are seeing just how important mothers are not only in providing physically for a child’s needs, but also in supporting them emotionally and spiritually during what is the worst health crisis we have lived through.  It is mothers, too, who are bearing the main burden in looking after their children’s education while schools are closed. 

One of my favourite painters is Henry Ossawa Tanner. 

He painted several paintings of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  One I particularly like is one of our Lady teaching Jesus.  Mary’s role in our Lord’s life was a significant one not only in giving birth, but also in raising and teaching him, and today is a good opportunity for us to remember and give thanks for it.

Another of Tanner’s paintings, which I have a copy of in my study, is of the event we are particularly thinking of today.   It depicts the Angel Gabriel appearing to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Gabriel is depicted simply using a ray of light.  Mary is sitting hands clasped listening intently.  She is young, but intelligent and aware. 

I like this painting especially because so many of the paintings and depictions of Mary make her appear so fragile and weak.  I realize that often she is depicted in this way out of a serious devotion and desire to show her submission to God’s will for her. 

They are not, however, a true representation of the Mary I know. 

For me she is an amazing woman who took on a role, which involved a ‘sword piercing her own heart also’ Luke 2:35).  A role that meant she would have to endure shame and misunderstanding from family and friends.  Even today, there are those who doubt her virginity and call her purity into question.  And all this before the hardship she had to endure as a refugee and, in all likelihood, as a single mother. Joseph apparently having died before Jesus began his ministry. 

This is a strong woman and we honour her. 

But is this all we do? 

For others in the Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary not only had a role in the past as our Lord’s mother.  And her role in the present is more than as a role model for our faith, important though that is.   In addition to all this, the Blessed Virgin Mary is a very real presence in their life. 

Our Lord on the Cross said to the disciple he loved, ‘Behold your mother’ (John 19:27).  Was this a gift just to the Beloved Disciple or something more?  For many of us, it was a gift of our Lord to all believers as the Blessed Virgin Mary becomes our mother too. 

I have in my hand a rosary and, for many Christians, praying the rosary is a vital part of their spiritual life. It is also much misunderstood.  It is seen by some as an unacceptable form of devotion to Mary that amounts to worship and idolatry.  However, as those who use it pray one of the most popular prayers in the Church, the ‘Hail Mary’, they meditate on various aspects of the life of our Lord from his birth to his death. 

At our Lord’s first miracle, at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, the Mother of our Lord said to the servants, ‘Whatever he tells you to do, do it’ (John 2:5).  The Blessed Virgin Mary always directs our attention to her Son and encourages us to obey him.  For many, Mary in a very real way, is not just an example of faith, but a companion on their spiritual journey.  She is someone they can turn to for support and, yes, for comfort too.  A mother, in fact! 

Today, the Feast of the Annunciation, reminds us of the importance of mothers and of the need to value and support them in the work they do.  The Blessed Virgin Mary shows us what it means to have faith - to trust and obey - as well as showing us the cost of discipleship and the sacrifices we too will have to make as we follow her Son. 

But more than this: she accompanies us on our path of discipleship: supporting us, encouraging us, and comforting us when we need it. 

Today we celebrate her: our Lord’s mother and ours. 

Hail Mary,
full of Grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary,
Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now,
and at the hour of our death. 


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