March 25th is the feast day commemorating the Annunciation, the announcement to the virgin Mary that she would bear the Son of God. See Luke 1:26-38 for the beautiful story. The day was chosen because it is nine months before Christmas Day.
Mary’s faith lives on, and many generations have indeed called her blessed as she prophesied in the Magnificat. We call her blessed on Sundays, when we praise God for “the blessed virgin Mary.” She was uniquely used by God as a means of giving the world amazing grace, which is why Elizabeth sang that she was “blessed among women”. She was given a special role in the story of our salvation, a story that involves human beings in God’s plan: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with the prophets and matriarchs, and Mary and the Apostles. She is the Theotokos, “the one who gave birth to God” or “God bearer.” And with all of the saints and the faithful departed, she is alive in the presence of Christ, and in communion with us as part of the One Body of Christ.
On this feast day, we take some time to reflect on the faith of the virgin Mary. She was a poor but faithful Israelite. She was looking for the Messiah to come, praying for God to deliver his people. She was engaged to be married to a good and faithful servant of the Lord named Joseph. Life was difficult for Mary, with the Roman oppression and the harshness of everyday existence. Many questioned whether the Messiah would come at all, and doubted that the promises would be fulfilled. But she remained faithful to the God of her fathers. She is a great example of patience, trust, and devotion.
And then one day the angel Gabriel appeared. He announced (rather abruptly, it seems to me) that she, a virgin, would be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, and would conceive in her womb the Son of God. She was to call his name Jesus, which means ‘the Lord saves.” I can’t imagine a more surprising, life changing, or unbelievable event happening to this impoverished young woman. And yet she received the word from God, saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” How did she do that? By faith.
Mary had a deep, humble faith in God. This is revealed in the Magnificat, or Mary’s Song, which is recorded later in that same chapter of Luke, as Mary visits with Elizabeth, her cousin. Listen to the beginning of this amazing song of praise:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
Though Christians have sometimes gone to extremes in devotion to Mary, we should not miss out on what is biblical and spiritually healthful about her place in our faith. We could miss out on a central part of our faith, and we would miss out on the special gift that Mary’s femininity brought to the world, and brings to us today.
First, we need to see that God used a faithful woman in a uniquely feminine way in his plan. Making sure to recognize and ponder Mary’s place in the story helps us to see God’s work through both men and women, both made in his image, and to rejoice that we have a mother of our faith as well as the fathers of our faith. She is an icon or “window” through which God is seen and received.
Second, as we ponder her faithfulness, and we pray that God will enable us to trust him fully and be found faithful in our own day.
Third, we see that Mary continued following Jesus, remaining close to him even at the cross. She stayed with him not only because he was her son, but also because she was faithful to the Lord her God. She had already learned that God is faithful, even when she didn’t know exactly what he was doing.
Finally, she served as a integral part of the Jerusalem Church at Pentecost and in its early formation. She was truly faithful from the beginning to the end of her part of the story. She gave birth to Jesus, and was there for the birth of the Church, the Body of Christ. We give God thanks and praise, just as she did.
As we celebrate this feast, it is good to call Mary blessed, and to praise “the fruit of her womb,” Jesus. It is good to glorify God for her unique role as the Mother of God. It is good to love her, and to see her as our mother in faith. And it is good to give thanks to the Lord, for as Mary said, “his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”
And by the way, since today is a Feast Day, many Christians “break the fast” of Lent. In some traditions, the pastor has to provide a “dispensation’ for the people to be able to feast, instead of observing the fast. We Anglicans don’t have pastoral dispensations, (nor do we want them) but for those of you who would like special pastoral advice, I say feast away!
Photo: Pietro Cavallini’s Annunciation. Public domain.