In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In this morning's Gospel we heard these words:
And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS....Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be..?”...And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.....For with God nothing is impossible.”
Dear ones, one of America’s Founding Fathers and Leading Lights was a man named Thomas Paine. In December of 1776 he wrote a pamphlet entitled “The American Crisis” which began with these words: “THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” Just a few weeks ago, none of us imagined how serious and how disconcerting this war against the COVID19 pandemic would become. In the beginning we didn’t even know what was happening in Wuhan China. Then, as it began to spread, we took notice but didn’t really think it would come here or effect us. And then...it did. We were shocked, weren’t we...aren’t we? We were horrified, weren’t we...aren’t we? These are, indeed, times that try men’s souls! We ask, “How can this be?” Our first instinct is to question it, deny it. Like summer soldiers and sunshine patriots, now that the crisis has become acute, we are tempted to run away, or to become disheartened, or to become depressed, but we mustn’t! The president and the nation and the state and the doctors, have all called upon us to fight, to join in the war effort against this plague, this invisible enemy. So, here we are, doing our best as Orthodox Christian citizens, doing our part, saying “yes” to our leaders, yes to our government, yes to the medical experts, and yes to our father and Hierarch Archbishop Benjamin.
Young Mary was given some shocking news in the Gospel today. She was given terrifying and confusing news. She asks: “How can this be?” She receives one, very simple answer: “Nothing is impossible with God.” And for her, this answer is sufficient. She hears the word and she will obey. No thought of running or denying. No despondency, no denial, just “yes.”
Her response is amazing and a miracle in itself. How is it possible that this young maiden can so easily say “Yes?” Whatever will the neighbors think?What a scandal! What cultural and societal suicide! Who will believe it? Who will believer her? I can't help but think of the words of Isaiah the Prophet: “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1) Indeed. Who will believe? To whom will God's power be revealed?
In this present age we hear a lot of “no.” Jimmi Hendrix sang: “I've got my own life to live...so let me live my life the way I want to” (Song: “If 6 Was 9”). We say no to what is uncomfortable or unpleasant. We say no to getting old by means of chemicals and surgery. We say “no” to the will of God by pretending that He isn't there. We say “no” to an unplanned pregnancy by “taking care of IT.” This is the voice of this present age. This is the voice of the fallen world. This is the voice of the gaping maw of hell. But Mary didn’t listen to it. Mary rejected it. Mary heard a different voice, the voice of an angel. When Mary asked: “How can this be?” she recognized in the angelic answer the voice she had come to know so well growing up in the Temple – the voice of God. Because of her purity, because of her love for God and for everyone, she was able to discern that voice that said to her: “Don't be afraid, Mary. Nothing is impossible with God.”
I will conclude with some words from my late Seminary Professor, Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann:
“We rejoice with delight and wonder, for this image of Mary, the most-pure Mother of God, is always with us as comfort and encouragement, as inspiration and help. We rejoice because in gazing at this image, it is so easy to believe in the heavenly beauty of this world and in man’s heavenly, transcendent calling. The joy of the Annunciation is about the angel’s glad tidings, that the people had found grace with God and that soon, very soon, through her, through this totally unknown Galilean woman, God would begin to fulfill the mystery of the world’s redemption.”*
*(From, “Celebration of Faith: Volume 3, The Virgin Mary,” published by Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press.)