March 25, 2020

Sermon – The Feast of the Annunciation 2020

Pastoral Sermon
The Feast of the Annunciation
by V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
March 25, 2020
 
On this Feast of the Holy Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel, who is also commemorated today is heard proclaiming to Mary in the Gospel reading:  Rejoice, O favored one [“full of grace”], the Lord is with you!  Blessed are you among women…” (Luke 1: 29).  And in her response to Gabriel, Mary questioned Gabriel asking, “How can this be?”  To which Gabriel responded: Do not be afraid… for you have found favor with God…  You know the rest of the story.  Gabriel explains how the Holy Spirit will come upon her and that she was to give birth to the Son of God.  And what did Mary say? (Luke 1:38): I am the Lord’s servant… May it be to me [according to your word ] [as you have said].
 
Next, we are told, that Mary went immediately to the house of Zachariah and greeted her cousin, Elizabeth, who also said to Mary:  Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!
 
What follows is what we call “The Magnificat,” the well known hymn that we sing each Sunday, recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke (1:46).  It begins with the words of Mary’s response to Elizabeth:  My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.  For He has been mindful of the humble state of His handmaiden.  For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed!  For the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his Name.  His mercy extends to those who fear Him from generation to generation.
 
How do we understand these the words of the Holy Virgin?  How does she who is for us a model of humility (especially during the season of Great Lent) speak with such confidence and certainty?  Is she speaking with pride when she says: “all generations shall call me blessed?”  Surely not.  Mary is truly the model of great humility and obedience for us, so how do we understand Mary’s calling; but not only Mary’s calling: How do we understand God’s personal calling to you and me?
 
In our Church hymns Mary is also called: the “sanctified temple” and “God-bearer.”  Those words should also describe who you and I are called to be.  The Bible says that our body is a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 6:19).  As recipients of His Body and Blood we are united with God in the most intimate way and are, like Mary “God bearers.”  We become a sanctified temple of the Lord!  
 
Sister Magdalen of the Monastery of St. John the Baptist (Essex, UK) says that: “Self-confidence can become self-idolatry, and ‘self-idolatry’ is never our real self.”  Sister Magdalen says that “what we hear in the words of the Holy Virgin is not a ‘self-confidence.’  [It is] the evidence of God’s divine grace in her life.”
 
So then, we might ask:  Is it wrong to be confident?  Is there any good or is it ever appropriate for you and I to have any any self-confidence?  David the Psalmist said (Psalm 34:1-2), I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.  My soul shall make its boast in the Lord.  
 
In writing the Church of Corinth (II Corinthians 10:17), St. Paul quotes the Prophet Jeremiah who stated:  Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.  For it is not the person who commends [gives credit to] himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends [or showers with the grace of His Spirit] (Jeremiah 9:24) 
 
In the section of this passage the Apostle Paul makes very clear that:  We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with [those] who commend themselves.  We… will not boast beyond what is appropriate, but will confine our boasting to the responsibility God has assigned to us… (II Corinthians. 12:13a).  In writing the Romans 12:3 St. Paul also sates …[do notthink of yourself more highly than [youought, but… think soberly, according to the measure of faith God has given you. 
 
So then: Is there a way to be confident and not simply “self confident?”  Sure.  You and I are very aware of how paralyzing it is when we feel insecure and do not trust ourselves.  On the other hand, we also know how the temptation of pride can lead us to becoming arrogant, prideful, or being inconsiderate and puffed up.  Yet, we need confidence to cope with life, to make important decisions, to face our responsibilities, at times, to complete our work.  We must also use good judgment in our social contacts (especially today!).  Sister Magdalen advises us in this way:  “The secret to a humble and unselfish ability to manage our lives on a day-to-day basis is: by being thankful in [trusting] and [relying] upon God with a deeply rooted certainty of being loved and valued by Him.”  The good news is that you and I are loved and are valued by Him!
 
It should be no different with how we associate or build relationships with one another.  For example, in speaking to parents, Sister Magdalen says: “The secret to helping our children learn humility and responsible generosity is by being thankful in our trust and dependence upon God, with the awareness of His love and trust in us.”  That’s right, God trusts and has faith in you as a person who is called by Him to be a father, or mother, godparent, grandparent, teacher, clergyman, fireman, policeman, nurse or doctor; whatever might be your vocation [your calling] as one gifted and skilled with a responsibility.
 
In our Tradition, the Holy Virgin is also called: the “Mediatrix” and the “Co-redemptress.”  Similarly, you and I are called to be partners with God in all of our relationships; as mediators and intercessors just as she was.  You and I are God’s partners in helping to saving others by His grace, love and mercy!  
 
Mary’s life was filled with praise in glorifying God, and God was near to her.  That closeness, that oneness, included the miracle of His conception and being naturally born of her.  The Holy Virgin was well aware of her legacy and heritage.  {Are you aware of your legacy and heritage?}. She cherished all that she knew to be true and unmistakable.  {What is it that you understand to be true and unmistakable?}.  She took God’s laws and the instruction she received in the Temple very seriously.  {Do you have knowledge of God’s Laws and do you take them seriously?}.  And this Tradition was deeply rooted in her heart.
 
And so when we as parents show unconditional love and set an example in humility of not being boastful or proud, we provide our children with the best sense of security and confidence.  It is never easy for a young man or a young woman to face the pressure of being expected to be like his dad or her mother, especially when he or she may not have the same skills, talents or abilities.  God has called each of us to be unique persons.  He did not create us as robots or clones!  Our knowledge and heritage, our skills and abilities all contribute to that very special call that each of us have been blessed to have, just as in was for the Holy Virgin.  And while no one had a calling like the Holy Virgin, she was no more or no less a human being than you and me.
As Christian adults we can trust and rely on God without becoming irresponsible or pretending that as humans, we do everything badly.  We should not try to overcome our personal insecurities or feelings of inferiority with vanity.  Sister Magdalen said:  “Pride in oneself is even more dangerous than an inferiority complex.  Humility is the sound basis of a person’s mental and emotional health.”
 
A child who feels loved will be able to bear a great degree of spiritual self-humbling.  Christ-like humility is a gift of grace.  Remember: It was the Lord who said, “He who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:1).  There is no healthy way to be full of self-praise or as we say, “full of one’s self.”  It is simply unhealthy.
 
Let me conclude this lesson by reminding us of St. Paul’s much quoted verse (Ephesians 2:8-10)  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  The very next verse is also important:  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Here again it becomes very clear:  God has a special calling for each of us as He did the Mother of God.  That calling involves our desire to be saved.  It has a divine purpose.  And just like the Holy Virgin: It requires us to know what is true, to be honest with ourselves, to acknowledge God’s Laws and to “magnify the Lord” by glorifying Him and to “rejoice in God our Savior.”
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