Today, March 25th, is the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. On this feast day, we remember the holy moment recorded in Luke 1:26-38, when the angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she is “highly favored” and will be the bearer of the Christ. The feast day is exactly nine months before the Nativity on December 25th. While the first authentic records of “Lady Day” are in the mid-8th century, it may have been celebrated at least since the late 4th century.
Here is an excerpt from St. Cyril of Alexandria, preached at the council of Ephesus in 431:
“We hail you, O mysterious and Holy Trinity who has gathered us together in council in this church of Holy Mary, the God-bearer. We hail you, Mary, the God-bearer, sacred treasure of all the universe, the star which never sets, the crown of virginity, the scepter of true law, a temple which cannot be destroyed, the dwelling place of one who cannot be contained. O Mother and Virgin, we hail you for the sake of the one whom the holy Gospels call ‘blessed,’ the one who ‘comes in the name of the Lord.”
Today, I’m going to be singing the following hymn, “God Himself Is With Us.” It’s #477 in the 1940 Hymnal, #475 in the 1982, and #178 in our new REC hymnal, The Book of Common Praise 2017. It was written in 1729 by Gerhardt Tersteegen.
God Himself is With Us
God himself is with us;
Let us all adore him,
And with awe appear before him.
God is here within us;
Soul, in silence fear him,
Humbly, fervently draw near him.
Now his own who have known
God in worship lowly, Yield their spirits wholly.
Thou pervadest all things;
Let thy radiant beauty
Light mine eyes to see my duty.
As the tender flowers
Eagerly unfold them,
To the sunlight calmly hold them,
So let me quietly In Thy rays imbue me;
Let thy light shine through me.
Come, abide within me;
Let my soul, like Mary,
Be thine earthly sanctuary.
Come, indwelling Spirit,
With transfigured splendor;
Love and honor will I render.
Where I go Here below,
Let me bow before thee,
Know thee, and adore thee.
Gladly we surrender
Earth’s deceitful treasures,
Pride of life, and sinful pleasures:
Gladly, Lord, we offer
Thine to be forever,
Soul and life and each endeavor.
Thou alone Shalt be known
Lord of all our being,
Life’s true way decreeing.
I treasure Denise Levertov’s poem Annunciation throughout the year, but it is, obviously, indispensable for today. One year, for our Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols service ,we paired a reading of the poem with Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel and since then, these two pieces have become inseparable to me — mutually illuminating. Here is a (very inadequate, unmixed) recording, if you’d like to listen to the poem with Pärt’s piece in the background:
by Denise Levertov
‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –
but who was God.
Header image: John William Waterhouse, The Annunciation