Annunciation 2020 Homily

The angel of the Lord announced to Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit. Thank God for Mary and her son Jesus. He is the reason we remember this intimate moment in Mary’s life. It is an incredibly intimate moment in religious history. Perhaps Buddha under the Bo tree is another—I guess most stories of profound religious inspiration are of necessity intimate before they get written down and proclaimed from the housetops.

For Christians, Mary’s “Yes” to God has been celebrated ever since that day.  Perhaps it was 525 (or earlier), when the feast was promulgated. We celebrate the event and Mary’s unique vocation that grew from it. She is the mother of Jesus, the Messiah. For that alone she is worthy of praise, adoration—everything we can muster! But she also holds up a mirror to us. She is the Mother of Christ, called the Theotokos, or God-bearer. Looking at her, we see ourselves: fully human and confronted by messengers from God asking for our cooperation. We, by our yeses, at Baptism, are God-bearers too. As we celebrate her willingness, we reach down deep into our hearts and test our own willingness to cooperate in the sometimes-confounding request to witness to God’s grace and love and mercy. In this world! At this time!

What does it mean to be a God-bearer in our world? What is God’s message for us to take to the world? I wonder.

In our intimate, reflective moments after we read the Bible, or the newspaper, or listen to the news– about 10,000, 25,000, 250,000 infections, deaths totaling 10,000 projected to rise to a quarter million or a million or more. . .yes, just so. . .This is serious, heart breaking stuff. Not to be made light of or glossed over with religious platitudes. In this context, what are you hearing?

What skills or qualifications did Mary have to bear Jesus? Faith. Mothering skills. A loving soon-to-be-spouse. A devoted cousin Elizabeth. Did she really understand what was being asked? Did she feel qualified. “How can this be?” she asked. It doesn’t matter. She said yes.

Do you feel ready for this moment in time? I don’t, not really. But I am willing. Willing to do what I can here, for others in any way possible. To cooperate with God.

For me, being a Christian is about witnessing to Christ, being kind to neighbors, caring for the poor, the sick, the outcast. Often it seems very unglamorous, requiring doggedness, determination more than brilliance. My Christian faith is about opening myself to God so that in the midst of confusion, fear, whatever, God’s power, God’s hope or Word if you will, can be proclaimed.

As a Franciscan I don’t believe it depends on eloquence, but on simple living. Our God-given powers can open up space for something new to happen in us and therefore in the world. The way we face our lives is a powerful witness to others. Let’s list our powers: the simple baby-caring skills of Mary is an example; so is our cooking, caring for the animals. Washing windows, working in the garden. Shelving books. Crunching numbers on a spread sheet. Building projects. Getting away for a run or exercise when we can. Texting family and friends to check on them, to pray for them. In our present circumstances, it seems the most helpful thing we can do is to sit faithfully at home. Staying at home is our corporate contribution to the healing of the world. As John Milton, battling a sense of futility at his blindness famously said: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Wait on God willingly.  It’s not nothing. All these are the skills we need—our God-given powers to make Christ known and loved.

All of these things we do are part of the ordinary, quiet way God does extraordinary things. Yes of course some are called to be prophets and leaders. But don’t discount your own witness. Its all very counter-intuitive. Believing in Jesus, claiming our Christian vocation as his disciples doesn’t protect us from the trials and difficulties—the proving ground of life. But our “yes” to God can open our eyes and hearts and hands to see, embrace and serve God at work in the world.

What’s going to happen? I don’t know. Nobody does. But as long as I am able, I cannot allow death to define who I am. That is the blessing of the Resurrection and the promise of the Annunciation we are celebrating today. Death can claim our bodies but not our hearts. We have the power to change the story we tell ourselves. As long as we have breath, we can give thanks for the beauty around us, for the people we live with, for the dedicated doctors and nurses and others who serve and protect us, for scientists who are searching for cures. Yes. That is the world we are called to celebrate. In the funeral service it says even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! And while we’re at it, we can point to the other things happening that make you stop and think, make you wonder—the dissipating air pollution, water purifying itself—nature shrugging off some of our human pillage. Swans and dolphins in Venice’s lagoon. Imagine that.

What do God’s angels whisper in your heart, fellow God-bearers? I hear one word: “beloved.” Write it on your hands: I am beloved. Not forgotten. Not punished. But chosen, loved, cherished. Savor this word: “Beloved.” Share it. Believe it. “Don’t be afraid, my beloved” the angels always sing. All things are possible with God who is constantly breaking into our world in surprising, intimate ways. Open yourself to it. Say yes. This is how God renews the face of the earth.