Isaiah 7:10-14 | Psalm 45 | Hebrews 10:4-10 | Luke 1:26-38
It is so very specific. Not the fifth month or the seventh month, or just any other unspecified time, but in the six month, God sent not just any angel, but the Angel Gabriel, by name. God sent Gabriel not to just any young woman, but to a virginal young woman engaged to a particular man, a man named Joseph. And this specific, particular Joseph was a descendant of not just any former king of Israel, but of the greatest of the kings of Israel, the great King David. From far beyond the billion billion universes that surround us, God sent to a tiny girl in a tiny room in a tiny town in a tiny nation his creative word. And – to employ the biological understanding of that day – that Word was planted in a place where nothing was. A place where there was not a what but a where. A where that a child could grow in. A place where a life would take its physical being from the nourishment provided by Mary’s body. From the far reaches of whatever lies beyond space and time, God planted within that tiny place God’s infinite, timeless self. So that that infinite, timeless self could take on human flesh. The infinite contained in the tiny – the tiny and finite. And the specific. It seems the church wants us to focus today not on a the philosophical, the theological or the metaphysical, but on the specific and the personal. On the person of Mary, engaged to Joseph, of the house of David. The unfathomable, momentous, mysterious truth of the Annunciation is that, as the story is told, it all hinged and hung on the specific, very human response of a young woman’s “yes” to God. If Mary consents, all creation, all galaxies, suns and especially this earth our island home shift immeasurably and forever. Mary consents. And while the “yes” of the God Bearer is an brilliant, adamantine diamond of a moment, it is nonetheless just a moment in history. That is the point. It is history. It really, really, in whatever metaphysical, supernal, preternatural way we might choose to try to conceptualize it, it happened. And yet like John Booty’s stunning metaphor for the church as an ever widening circle of ever deepening reonciliation rippling eternally through all creation, Mary’s “yes” sets in motion such a tsunami of grace. The God Bearer’s moment of consent is a specific, once in a life time, once and for ever – but ever repeatable event. How can that be? It can be in the same way that the infinite can dwell within the finite, as the illimitable God can dwell in God’s limited, circumscribed creation. How is it that momentous consent is never-yet-ever-repeatable? In the centering prayer movement, the practitioners of that method of prayer are invited to sit silently, comfortably, consenting – like Mary – to the presence and action of God within. The presence and action of God within. In Mary that presence was uniquely the presence in her body of God’s own self in human form. In the ordinary pray-er of centering prayer, the presence of God is the divine spark, the divine deep heart’s center of centers, from which radiates God’s presence therein. It is the place within us of our being in God and God’s being in us. That is what is meant by the presence of God within. What of the action of God? Fr. Keating teaches that the action of God within each of us is God’s perpetual affirmation of our essential goodness. God’s affirmation perpetually of our essential goodness. That active affirmation finds its parallel in the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to the God Bearer, when he affirms her status with God – not once, but twice. “Greetings favored one . . . you have found favor with God.” As it was for Mary, so it is with us. We too are affirmed as favored of God. But for us, it is not the Angel Gabriel, but God’s own spirit deep within our truest selves, saying specifically, to each specific one of us, just as we are, “My child, favored one, you have found favor with God.” That affirmation is happening perpetually deep within each one of us. The infinite God contained within and affirming the essential goodness of God’s children, the essential goodness, and “favord-ness” (to coin a word), of each one of us. So, hail, favored ones, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you all, and blessed is the one who dwells within even, very specific you.
The sisters and regular hearers of my occasional forays in to sermonizing here might well expect there now to be a poem. I seek not to dissapoint. Much beloved Auden waxes a little too philosophical for my taste on the topic of The Annunciation, but John Donne rises mightily to the summons. With with his familiar use of paradox and oxymoron, Donne captures in both form and meaning something of this idea of the infinite interpenetrating and apotheosizing the finite. His poem Annunciation, in its complexity may take many readings and hearings to begin to enter fully into its meaning, but I will try to render it intelligibly.
Salvation – to all that will – is nigh; That “All”, which always is all everywhere, Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear, Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die, Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie In prison, in thy womb; and though He there Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother; Thou hast light in dark, and shutest in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.