March 25, 2016: The Annunciation of the Most-Holy Theotokos
Epistle: Hebrews 2:11-18
Gospel: Luke 1:24-38
We call Christ our Lord, God, and Savior and are right to do so because He is. And because of Who is, we come before Him in “fear and trembling.”
But just as rightly, we must come to Jesus not simply as God but as our brother. As we hear in the epistle, “he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin.” Immediately after this we hear something extraordinary. The Second Person of the most Holy Trinity, He Who is God from all eternity “is not ashamed” to call us His brothers. This being so, how can we be hesitant to call Him our Brother? Because it is as our brother that Jesus proclaims the Father: “I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee.”
Jesus Christ, standing in our midst not simply as God but as our brother announces the Father’s great mercy for us.
We shouldn’t think that His humanity is merely instrumental, only a means to an end. What do we read in Hebrews? “Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.” It is precisely by becoming human, by taking on our humanity and becoming our brother that Jesus is able to pour out God’s mercy on us and to lift from us the burden of sin.
We must balance Jesus ‘s transcendence with His imminence. Yes, as God Jesus is greater than anything I can imagine Him to be; but as my creator and my brother He is closer to me than I am to myself as St Augustine says (Confessions, III, 6, 11). The irony, or maybe better, the paradox of the Christian faith is this: We only truly know God’s transcendence in and through the incarnation of the Son. It is in becoming like us in all things but sin (see Hebrews 4:15), that Jesus is able to communicate to us the supra-essential glory of God.
Turning to the Gospel and today’s feast, the Archangel Gabriel‘s announces to the Virgin Mary the great mystery of our faith. While our first parents were promised a redeemer (see Genesis 3:15), the fulfillment of the promise is far beyond what they could have imagined. God becomes as we are, to paraphrase St Irenaeus, so that we could become as He is. Today is announced not simply the coming of the Redeemer, but God’s invitation to us to share in the life of the Holy Trinity. Today by God’s grace and the Virgin’s consent, we have become “partakers in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4, NKJV) because He has taken on ours.
Let me offer at this point a caution.
As magnificent as is the Gospel, we can’t allow its beauty to blind us to the intimacy we have with Jesus. Yes, we must worship Christ as “King and Lord” as we hear in the baptismal service. But to do know Him in this way, we must first know Him as our brother, as the Man Who all those yers ago walked among us and with us.
Too easily I can find myself swept away by the depth and breadth of Holy Tradition. The Church’s theology is rich and profound; the Liturgy of the Church is of unparalleled beauty, can soften even the hardest heart as it transport us from earth to heaven.
Still, we can’t lose sight of the fact that Jesus is not only our Lord but also our brother. And of the two of these, it is the latter —if I may dare to say such a thing—that matters most.
To know Jesus in His divinity as well as His humanity, to know Him as Lord and brother, we must imitate the obedience of the Theotokos. “As the human race was subject to death through the act of a virgin, so it was saved by a virgin.” Through Mary’s obedience “the wisdom of the serpent” is “conquered by the simplicity of the dove, and the chains were broken by which we were in bondage to death” (St Irenaeus,Against Heresies 5:20, in ACCS, NT vol III: Luke, pp. 19-20).
How do we practice such obedience?
Again, we must look to the Mother of God who “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, NKJV). We must, in other words, learn to keep silence. St John Climacus says that “silence is the mother of prayer” and that “The friend of silence draws near to God and, by secretly conversing with Him, is enlightened by God” (The Ladder of Divine Ascent 11, trans. L.Moore, p.92).
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate today the Feast of the Annunciation, let us commit ourselves “from this moment on” to set aside time to sit silently with our brother Jesus! And let us, through silence, come to know and love Him Who knows and loves us!