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The story of the announcement of the coming of God made flesh in the person of his Son, Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One, is heard in today’s proclamation of the good news from the gospel of Luke. The feast marks the conception of Christ in the womb of Mary and has been celebrated in the Church at least since the late fourth century. The perfect humanity and the complete divinity of Jesus is affirmed, following the controversies around those orthodox assertions, which themselves led to the acknowledgement of Mary as Theotokos, God-bearer, which in the West became translated as Mother of God. The celebration thus took on strong associations with the person of Mary, and became known in England as Lady Day. In recent years, the Church has re-affirmed the day as a Feast of our Lord, on which his virgin-mother has a unique place of honour and veneration.
O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
We beseech you, O Lord,
pour your grace into our hearts,
that as we have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ
by the message of an angel,
so by his cross and passion
we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Great are the wonders you have done, O Lord my God.
How great your designs for us!
There is none that can be compared with you.
If I were to proclaim them and tell of them
they would be more than I am able to express.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire
but my ears you have opened;
Burnt offering and sacrifice for sin you have not required;
then said I: ‘Lo, I come.
‘In the scroll of the book it is written of me
that I should do your will, O my God;
I delight to do it: your law is within my heart.’
I have declared your righteousness in the great congregation;
behold, I did not restrain my lips,
and that, O Lord, you know.
Your righteousness I have not hidden in my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your loving-kindness and truth
from the great congregation.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’
Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’
Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.
How important and special do you feel? Set aside your natural sense of modesty and reticence and think again. How important and special do you feel?
When asked questions about status and self-esteem most of us retreat behind a self-erected screen of understatement. Even when our achievements are significant we tend to retreat and don a cloak of ubiquitous anonymity.
With all that in mind, let us put ourselves in Mary’s position. This may seem an extraordinary flight of fancy, but it isn’t really. I asked how important and special you feel, and most of you will have thought: ‘I am not important or special at all; I am just and ordinary person.’ Just like Mary!
Mary was a teenager living out an ordinary life in an ordinary Jewish community. Like other girls who were approaching full adulthood, Mary’s family had arranged a wedding for her. They were probably very pleased to have organized an engagement between their daughter and a young craftsman, named Joseph. They knew that Mary’s future would be both secure and respectable. Mary’s ordinary life would continue to be unexceptional, but content. Then, on an unspecified day some two thousand years ago, Mary’s ordinary life was changed, as was ours.
We can only presume at the level of Mary’s faith and commitment to serving God. The depth of this young woman’s faith is presumed because of what happened to Mary on that fateful day. Mary was visited by a messenger from God, an angel. That messenger greeted ordinary Mary as someone very special in the eyes of God, someone so special that she had been chosen, by God himself, to do a unique job … something that would change the destiny of the whole human race, for ever.
If Mary had been asked, at the beginning of that momentous day, how important or special she felt, she would probably have laughed at the absurdity of the question. But, by the end of her encounter with that divine messenger, her destiny had changed.
Every day God is knocking at our doors and asking us to become important and special on his behalf. Every day we are being invited to carry the Good News of his Son into the world. It does not matter how ordinary we may consider ourselves to be, because that is not how God sees us. To God we all have the calling and the potential to rise above the ordinary and to take the light of Christ into the dark corners of this world. We just have to join Mary in saying: Let it be with me according to your word – and mean it!!
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray with hearts and minds open to hear the message of God.
Inspire the Church with the faith and obedience of Mary, so that all who profess the faith of Christ may truly honour and serve him. In all our work and worship teach us to remember that nothing is impossible with God.
May the power of the Holy Spirit overshadow the nations of the world, creating peace where there is hatred. Bring new hope to those in power who are weary of conflict but despair of resolution.
We pray for mothers, and for all women soon to give birth. As Mary heard the message of the angel, may we all have grace to hear when we are called to offer them help and comfort.
Give strength and patience to those who wish for children and have none. Guide them to see your will in all things. Look with compassion on women who suffer difficult labour, and grant them relief.
We remember those who responded to the calling of God in this world and heard at last the call to life eternal. We give thanks that they have come into the joy of heaven with blessed Mary and all the saints.
Accept our prayers in the name of Jesus Christ, announced by an angel, born of a virgin, entering humanity for our salvation.
Almighty and everlasting God,
whose Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
triumphed in death on the cross
that he might win life for the world;
help us in the power of his victory
to triumph over evil
and to glory in his cross alone;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.