Annunciation of Our Lord
25 March 2012
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"Wait! Am I missing something?" you ask. It's Lent. Why in the world did we just hear about the conception of Jesus? It's as if you are watching a film about Lent, and going into some major flashback. It just doesn't make sense, does it?
Well, actually it does. First of all, the Festival of the Annunciation is very ancient, and this is the fixed date chosen for it. This festival is older than Christmas, and in fact, if you count nine months from today, when we celebrate the conception of Jesus Christ, you will discover why the Church celebrates Christmas on December 25th.
But perhaps more profoundly, why would we celebrate the Lord God taking on flesh in the womb of His Blessed Mother, even while we ponder His suffering and death? It is for that very reason that the Word became flesh! Not just "born to die," but "conceived to die," as well. The entire purpose for Jesus becoming a baby, starting as a fertilized egg in the Virgin Mary, is that He would give His life as a ransom for the many.
In our day, a couple can find out amazingly soon after they have conceived. An ultrasound can reveal the sex of the baby at an early stage. And they enjoy the process of selecting a name for their child.
In this case, the Blessed Virgin found out sooner than anyone else; the Angel Gabriel proclaimed the conception as it happened. It was the Word of God issuing from his mouth that caused the conception. The Word of God does what it says! No guessing about the sex of this Baby, either. The Lord removes all the guesswork by declaring from the get-go that this is a Son. And the name? No normal circumstance there, either. The Lord Himself chose the Name, a Name that would declare who He is and what He does: "Jesus!" which means, "the Lord saves!"
No ordinary conception. No ordinary baby. The Lord God was entering time and space to take on flesh and become Man to be our Savior. The Seed of Woman, proclaimed and prophesied by God in the Garden, was now entering the world He would save.
Satan hates that, and wants to distract you from the Word made flesh. He would much rather you imagine a spiritual, distant Jesus who is not so real. And often, you get sucked into that deception.
If you cannot locate Jesus, and He is only with you "spiritually," and there is no certain tangible connection, it becomes a whole lot easier to forget Him and do what pleases you. If Jesus is simply "out there" somewhere, you are more prone to openly break every commandment, from misusing the Lord's Name, to hurting others in their bodies, to lusting or coveting. It all feels easier to you, and your attitude deepens the division between you and God. If you cannot locate Jesus, the devil enjoys that you feel divided, cut off from the Lord. Jesus seems like He is merely some ghostly apparition, or imaginary friend, and vanishes from reality, or rather, your twisted imagined version of reality.
The world encourages this too. And often you don't mind following their lead. It gets divided. Secular "science" and "objective facts," are for the study and discussion of everything else, while "religion" gets sequestered and quarantined, and you enter a condescending notion that when you discuss matters about God and sin and righteousness, you have entered "the neighborhood of make believe."
The division seems harmless enough, at first. "Separation of Church and state" you hear from others, and it seems to apply for categories in your own personal thinking too. Separate Jesus into His own place, and the stuff from the "real" world is different. But such division in your mind is not harmless. It is harmful.
If Jesus is merely imagined or spiritualized, then He is not the God-with-us Son of God and Son of Mary. And you are stuck in your sin. And you are lost forever. Condemned. Without hope.
But He is not. Jesus is not some spirit. He is not some fairy tale or myth. He is the flesh and blood King of kings and Lord of lords who has come into this world to save you. "Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail! The incarnate Deity!" the hymn exclaims. Jesus has veiled and hidden His amazing and indescribable glory as God, becoming Man for you. He has made it possible for that first generation of the Church to see and hear and touch Him.
He continues this miracle, now veiling Himself in the waters of Baptism, in the words of the preached Gospel and assuring absolution, and in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. In this seemingly ordinary things, your extraordinary Savior hides Himself, that He may deliver His forgiveness, life, and salvation to you.
And that brings us full circle. Why should it make sense that we celebrate the Festival of the Annunciation during Lent? Jesus Christ became Man for you precisely to suffer and die on the cross. Lent reminds us even more strongly that Jesus is not some bodiless entity, or a result of the movie "magic" of special effects. Rather, He is the Lord God who has entered this world, the Creator becoming a Creature, so that He may bear your sin and be your Savior.
Conceived and born to suffer. Conceived and born to die. Conceived and born to rise. And He does it all for you! Amen.