Lutherans don’t often celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, which marks the visit of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38). We rightly emphasise Jesus, and so although the Feast of the Annunciation dates back one and a half millennia, we haven’t given it much airplay. For his part, however, Luther advises us not to neglect Mary as an example and witness of true faith. The mystery of the divine-human natures of Jesus comes to the fore when we consider her and the conception and birth of Jesus.
St Luke lays out the facts of the matter. Mary would bear a child through the power of the Holy Spirit. The pregnancy and birth would be like any other pregnancy and birth, but the conception was divine. The feast of the Annunciation assures us that Jesus is indeed true Son of God and Son of Man, and he entered this world, not by the will of a man, but by the will of God.
The date of the festival, set by the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, is also a reminder that creation belongs to God, and that he creates life as and when he chooses. It’s not accidental, therefore, that the Feast is celebrated during Lent, or the northern spring time. While the timing doesn’t work in quite the same for us in the south, we can still get the point. God’s sovereign will brings life into the world. Jesus chooses to come into the world to bring new life to all who believe in him. It’s also nine months before the Feast of the Nativity, which we call Christmas. The exact dates of Christian festivals and feasts are a matter of convention. They are chosen to teach us the story of salvation told in the Bible, and how we continue to participate in that story through faith, worship and daily Christian living.
The Feast of the Annunciation, which this year falls on Monday 25th March, also gives us pause for thought when we think of how vulnerable and weak the Son of God became when he chose Mary as his mother. Not only is the process of pregnancy and birth fraught with risk, especially in those days when there wasn’t much in the way of medical care. Mary, the chosen mother, was a young woman, probably what we would call a teenager, from a backwater town. Even what medical care was available would have been hard for her to come by. And, as we know, when the time came the baby was born in a strange place which was not her home, where she couldn’t even find a spare bed. It’s a good thing she had Joseph, who intriguingly isn’t mentioned much elsewhere in the Bible. God chooses to be born of a woman and on this occasion the men mostly take back seat roles. Those men whom Luke does mention are there to serve and support Mary and the child: Joseph who cares for Mary; and the prophet Simeon who witnesses to what God has done through Mary (Luke 2:25-35). He also features Elizabeth, Mary’s close relative (Luke 1:39-45), and Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:36-38).
As we are reminded of how God chose to come into this world through Mary, we are also reminded today of those who are weak and vulnerable in their mother’s wombs. Some commentators have remarked that, had abortion been an option, Mary might not have had Jesus because of the shame and complication he would cause her as an unmarried mother living in a staunchly traditional society. From what we know of Mary, however, whom we can trace through Jesus’ upbringing and ministry and on into the life of the early church, that would seem unlikely. She was a woman of resilience and evident courage. Her faith was especially remarkable given that the one we know as Son of God was also her flesh and blood son, her baby boy.
In some parts of Australia, particularly in South Australia at the moment, there are moves to so liberalise abortion laws that they would offer the unborn child almost no legal protection. These would not be wise laws, and would represent the failure of our society to protect its most vulnerable members. Recently District Bishop David Altus and I wrote to South Australian parliamentarians to ask that they do not pass such laws.
So on Monday 25th March we can pray:
- Great God, you created the universe and all that is in it, yet you humbled yourself and made yourself known to us in Jesus, a human like us who began life in his mother’s womb.
- Help us to become more like Jesus and his mother Mary.
- Guide our politicians and the voting public so that as a society we make choices which value life at its most vulnerable in the womb and regard newborn infants as God’s most precious gifts.
Bishop John Henderson
21st March 2019