|Read Luke 1:24-38|
Homily Preached at St. Panteleimon Orthodox Church, near Luanda, Kenya, a kilometer or so down a footpath from the B-1 Kisumu to Busia road.
Today is the Feast of the Annunciation. In the middle of Great Lent, we take a day to consider the awesome, unimaginable, history-changing conversation between an Archangel of God and a teenaged girl. Because we are Orthodox, we are not a stranger to the Virgin Mary. But sometimes all of the flowery language, all the icons categorized by just how she is holding her son, the hymns piled on hymns in pious devotion – ‘more honorable the cherubim, more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, without defilement you gave birth to God the Word, true Mother of God we magnify you! – sometimes all this praise has the unintended consequence of making Mary very distant from us, that she is so special that she can’t relate to us and we can’t relate to her. And there are things that make Mary unique among all humanity that ever lived and unique among everyone who will ever come after her. First, God chose her to be the one in whose womb the savior of the world, the God-Man would be conceived and carried to term. Mary carried this child in her womb, and when the time came, she gave birth to a son. Her betrothed Joseph had in a dream heard the angel of the Lord say ‘and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ (Matthew 1:21).
Many women have given birth to children throughout the history of the world. But Mary alone was chosen to be the woman through whom Eve’s curse would be undone, through whom the incarnate Son of God would be born. Secondly, because of this, Mary became the means God used to fulfill his promise to Israel to deliver his people from their sins. Even more, because of this Mary became the means God used to fulfill his promise to Abraham that all the families of the earth would be blessed. It was the son conceived by the miracle of God in her womb, the son she carried to term, the son she loved and raised, the son who undertook to call Israel back to God, the son who was betrayed, arrested and unjustly crucified as a criminal, who by his very act carried the sins of the world and made full atonement for us all, the son who rose again from the dead: it was this son of Mary who by his faithfulness became the savior of the World. Mary is not our Savior, Mary is not God; in just about every icon you will see she rightly points us to her Son as the one who is worthy of worship and praise. Nevertheless, by sending Gabriel to have that little talk with her, God put Mary in the middle of the equation of salvation, and there is no way to take her out. It’s simply the way it happened.
But having said all that, there is something that we Orthodox have a tendency to miss about Mary. And for our purposes as Christians today, a case could be made that we are missing the most important thing. And the most important thing that Mary does for us is that she says Yes to God. ‘Let it be to me according to your word,’ she says to Gabriel. The Angel had come saying this is what the Lord is going to do. And Mary couldn’t fathom how this could be. And when the Angel explained what God would do and what it would mean, Mary said, I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me as you have said. This is all God ever asks of any of us, that we listen to Him and respond to Him and then say yes. Now much has been made by many Church fathers and many of our best theologians since then about how Mary’s Yes to God undoes Eve’s No to keeping God’s commandment in the Garden of Eden. This is true, and it is fascinating theologically. But we mustn’t allow it to distract us from what I consider to be the real point of our passage.
When Mary says Yes to God, she becomes the first Disciple. She shows us what it means to follow Jesus in our world right here and right now. She surrenders who she is and what she has to the Lord for Him to do with as He pleases. When Mary says Yes to God, she becomes the first member of Christ’s Church. She is the paradigm of the New Covenant life. She shows us what it means to be God’s person in this world of ours.
You see, so many of us are missing this most important point from the Gospel reading today and about Mary. So many of us think that if we join the church we must be Christians. So many of us think that if we just take the trouble to showing up at services, we are doing the Church and God a favor. But how many of us are saying Yes to Jesus this morning? How many of us are making ourselves available to the Lord as His servant in our relationships, in our obligations, in this church this morning? To many people come to Church because of what they think they will get. But how many of us are here this morning because God is sending us to give, to give to our neighbor in love, to give to our fellow Christian in love, to give sacrificially everything we have and everything we are to the Lord, just like Mary? If everybody is here this morning hoping to get something from the bishop or from the missionary, no wonder we are poor. No wonder our Church is poor. But if everybody came here like Mary, saying Yes to God, everything I have is yours, all that I am is yours, we would be the richest parish in Kenya.
Our Church doesn’t need more money. It doesn’t need more help from foreign money or rich politicians. We just need more women and men like Mary. Women and men who are willing to listen to God, who are willing to understand what God is doing, who are willing to see the big picture and then base their whole life on it. Men and women who are willing to become Disciples of our Lord just like Mary. Men and women who are willing to become members of Jesus’ life-changing, world-changing community of disciples that the New Testament calls the Church. Men and women who are willing to live like the Christians we claim to be. Men and women who are willing to live like Mary. Mary was willing to say Yes to God, and her Yes changed the world. Are you willing to follow in her footsteps and say Yes to God this morning?