The Glorious Announcement
March 25th was New Year’s Day for hundreds of years in England. Until 1752 it was kept as such on this continent! In other words, if you had said “Happy New Year “ on January 1st to George Washington during his boyhood he probably would have wondered if you were French, if he understood your greeting at all. In Christian teaching, March 25th made a lot of sense. Richard Hooker, in his "Ecclesiastical Polity", written in 1594, wrote, ”We begin therefore our ecclesiastical year with the glorious announcement of His birth by angelical embassage.” Have you ever thought of angels as ambassadors for God? Our ancestors did. And I believe they were right.
After Christmas had been set on December 25th it was clear that the annunciation had to be celebrated on March 25th. In Spain there was great resistance to celebrating on this date because it almost always falls in Lent. But gradually this feast began to be kept by the Church in many lands and the Church in Spain acquiesced. Sadly, few churches of any flavor take any notice of the date today, and I think I know why. If the whole Christian Church made a really big deal about it it would be the most Pro-life statement they could make. It would say the Incarnation took place when Mary said,”Let it be unto me.” The moment of conception seems to have been right then. Jesus did not become Jesus at Bethlehem. Nor did John (the Baptizer) become John when he was born.
I have fought a lot of battles and I know what ‘lost causes “ mean. While the old two-faced Roman god Janus is not one anybody I know worships, along with everyone else I say, ”Happy New Year!” on the first day of the month named after him. But we have learned a little now about the old “new year’s day.” It is fascinating how filled with awe we can be if we just do a little research, and how much we can learn if we just slow down and listen.
The lesson from the Old Testament read on March 25th has been from Isaiah 7 from the earliest time of keeping the feast. Even in apostolic times it was used as a prophetic witness to the Virgin Birth of Christ. .
The Gospel from St. Luke, chapter 1 tells the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. Even in its beauty it is quite matter of fact. The “yes’ that changed the world is set forth in very simple terms. Mary does ask, ”How can this be, seeing I know not a man?” But, having asked a logical question of a presence which, to say the least, must have been overwhelming (when is the last time such a high ranking angel came to you?) she responds to the angel’s explanation with, ”Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” The Gospel recounts, “And the angel departed from her.”
You might be surprised at how many clergy-to-be who have been asked to tell this story associate ‘the Magnificat “ or “the Song of Mary” with the Annunciation. I have asked scores of seminarians over the years the question, ”And then what happened?” And I have gotten the wrong answer. I have to say ,“No. no, no.” Those wonderful words come from Mary’s visit with Elizabeth later.
The words of the angel Gabriel, as they have been paraphrased through the years, but try these, “Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee." You don’t have to be a “catholic’ to say the “Hail Mary” anymore than you have to be a football player to know what the term means in football. Throw the ball in faith. And try to live it too. The words of Gabriel and Mary are thrilling to me. I wanted to share them afresh for you too!