The Annunciation

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

The Feast of The Annunciation

Isaiah 7:10-14 (KJV), Psalm 40:5-11 (KJV), Hebrews 10:4-10 (NRSV), Luke 1:26-38 (KJV), 1 Nephi 11:14-22, Moroni 7:22-26, 29-32

The Collect: Father, we thank Thee for the ministration of angels as agents of Thy grace, revealing the incarnation of Thy Son Jesus Christ, as announced by an angel to Mary, Thy servant and chosen vessel both to bear Christ’s body and lifelong testimony of Him. May we heed that angelic message and exercise faith in Christ, becoming sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Benedictus (The Song of Zechariah),[1]
Normally Sung in Morning Prayer

* * *

I hope you believe in angels. I do.

Celebrating the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), we necessarily reflect on the amazing implications of God sending the angel Gabriel “unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth” (Luke 1:26) — dispatching an archangel to an essentially forgotten rural backwater of a town on a Galilean hillside to visit a young, unknown, betrothed girl. But God, for whom “nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37), knew Mary and had selected her among all His chosen people for a pivotal mission in His work of salvation.

30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:31-35.)

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898

Mary seems to have connected the dots very quickly.[2] But how long was it before it really sank in for her that she would fulfill prophecy through delivering the baby of angel Gabriel’s promise (Isaiah 7:14)? As the shock and glory of the angel’s sudden appearance receded, she must have deeply contemplated his words — was his admonition to “fear not” (Luke 1:30) sufficient to moderate or eliminate subsequent anxiety arising from the realization of her predicament (pregnant but not by her betrothed) or her reality-altering calling to carry and give birth to Immanuel in a physical, human body?

Her Son, Jesus Christ, once grown would reflect upon His body born of Mary. His divine mission highlighted that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4, NRSV). Those things were “offered according to the law” (Hebrews 4:8, NRSV). But in a reflection on Psalm 40:5-11 (KJV), Jesus is reported to have said,

5 Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me;
6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
7 Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me). (Hebrews 10:4-10, NRSV.)

The author of Hebrews considered Christ’s contemplation on this Psalm, explaining that “it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10, NRSV). “He abolishes the first in order to establish the second” (Hebrews 10:9, NRSV).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ecce Ancilla Domini! ("Behold the handmaiden of the Lord") 1849-50 (source: http://tinyurl.com/kbowuzl)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ecce Ancilla Domini! (“Behold the handmaiden of the Lord”) 1849-50 (source: http://tinyurl.com/kbowuzl)

This new understanding of the relationship between the old Law requiring “sacrifices and offerings” — “the blood of bulls and goats” — and the incarnation and bodily offering of the Son of God was indeed a pivotal revelation. But God had long communicated hints of this impending fulfillment to His children through the ministration of His angels.

Approximately 400 years after Christ’s birth to Mary, Mormon taught his son Moroni that “God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing” (Moroni 7:22). By delivering a message about faith in Christ, angels, we learn, are agents of God’s grace: “Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ” (Moroni 7:25). Moroni recalls his father teaching that even in his day of societal collapse, miracles had not ceased, “neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men” (Moroni 7:29).

In fact, Christ’s incarnation and atoning sacrifice had added clarity to this frequently delivered angelic message linking the Law to the bodily offering of the incarnate Son of God. After the coming of Christ, therefore, the core of the angels’ perennial message remained that “men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God” (Moroni 7:26, emphasis added) because “he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens” (Moroni 7:28, emphasis added).

These angelic visitations throughout history show God’s involvement with His children in delivering this message of faith and salvation; Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary reveals an even deeper, more intimate involvement of God in human affairs and that He knew Mary and selected her specifically. Mormon taught that all angels are

subject unto [God], to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness. And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him. (Moroni 7:30-31, emphasis added.)

Mary proved herself to be “of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness” as Gabriel appeared to her and she bravely submitted to God’s will for her, saying “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). Who can doubt that she presented herself as the Lord’s servant — as the “chosen vessel of the Lord” — and that she spent her life bearing testimony of him (cf. Luke 1:46-55)?[3]

For today, therefore, let us heed this ministration of angels, exercise strong faith in Christ, and be of good cheer because “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10, NRSV)! In so doing, we will honor the miraculous Annunciation that we celebrate today.

* * *

Detail from "Nativity" by Brian Kershisnik, 2006 (source: http://tinyurl.com/m6oafwf) -- The beauty and grace of Kershisnik's angels constantly inspire me.

Detail from “Nativity” by Brian Kershisnik, 2006 (source: http://tinyurl.com/m6oafwf) — The beauty and grace of Kershisnik’s angels constantly inspire me.

——–

[1] Luke 1:68-79 appears as the Morning Prayer, Benedictus (“The Song of Zechariah”) in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer:

Refrain:
All The Word of God, begotten of the Father before time began,
humbled himself for us and was incarnate
from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.

1 Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel, •
who has come to his people and set them free.

2 He has raised up for us a mighty Saviour, •
born of the house of his servant David.

3 Through his holy prophets God promised of old •
to save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all that hate us,

4 To show mercy to our ancestors, •
and to remember his holy covenant.

5 This was the oath God swore to our father Abraham: •
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,

6 Free to worship him without fear, •
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.

7 And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, •
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,

8 To give his people knowledge of salvation •
by the forgiveness of all their sins.

9 In the tender compassion of our God •
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

10 To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, •
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

All 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.

[2] Luke 1:46-55 appears as an Evening Prayer, Magnificat (“The Song of Mary”) in the Book of Common Prayer:

And Mary said,

1 My soul doth magnify the Lord :
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

2 For he hath regarded :
the lowliness of his handmaiden.

3 For behold, from henceforth :
all generations shall call me blessed.

4 For he that is mighty hath magnified me :
and holy is his Name.

5 And his mercy is on them that fear him :
throughout all generations.

6 He hath shewed strength with his arm :
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

7 He hath put down the mighty from their seat :
and hath exalted the humble and meek.

8 He hath filled the hungry with good things :
and the rich he hath sent empty away.

9 He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel :
as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son :
and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be :
world without end. Amen.

[3] Should some indeed doubt, we can read of another angelic visitation to Nephi on the other side of the world more than 500 years before Christ’s birth confirming the importance and truth of the Annunciation and Mary’s selection as a chosen vessel of the Lord both to bear Christ’s body and lifelong testimony of his divine nature:

14 And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?

15 And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.

16 And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?

17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.

18 And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.

19 And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!

20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.

21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?

22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. (1 Nephi 11:14-22.)

Comments

  1. John Mansfield says:

    And a pleasant Lady Day to you as well.

  2. John, I’m really enjoying this series. Thank you!

  3. Jason K. says:

    My goodness, John: this is really an embarrassment of theological riches, from the sacredness of physicality to Mary’s astuteness to the authorship of Hebrews to the fervent testimony of angelic ministration. Recalling that Lady Day used to start the new year, this post makes for some fabulous new beginnings. Thank you!

  4. I’m learning so much. Angels, or the idea of angels, is part of what compelled me down the path to discipleship. I love the excerpts from the Book of Common Prayer, and the Tanner painting has long been a personal favorite. Thank you for these rich posts.

  5. Wonderful stuff.

  6. “Mary proved herself to be “of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness” as Gabriel appeared to her and she bravely submitted to God’s will for her”

    John, this touches on something important. Submitting our will to the will of another requires a particular strength of mind that following our own will does not. My question here is whether Mary really submitted to God’s will? In once sense, she had very little choice in the matter. In another, her response to such news could be evidence of her faith, but, in first-century Palestine, what other choice did she really have but to speak the truth to Joseph and raise this boy as best she could? It would be great to hear any further thoughts you may have on how Mary demonstrated this firm mind in every form of godliness.

  7. Mary’s response has something to add, perhaps: Luke 1:46-55.

    And, if you don’t mind a somewhat circular explanation (since this is a devotional religious musing and not a philosophical tract or argument), we know she had a “strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness” because she was the recipient of the ministration of an angel and Mormon taught that such are the recipients of such ministrations. So the fact that she received an angel shows that she had these qualities.

    A counter-point would be the visitation of angels to warn/punish bad actors like Saul, Laman and Lemuel, and Alma the Younger/Sons of Mosiah. I suppose possibly the qualification that Mormon mentions for receiving the ministration of angels is applied to those instances in which the angels are bringing revelation about the coming (incarnation) of Christ. In the case of the bad actors, the angels’ purpose was to call them to repentance and in some cases punish them (Alma the Younger).

    Just musing. I have no answer for you. I certainly believe that Mary had those qualities but see no reason to require anyone who doubts that or disagrees to share that view of Mary.

    I certainly agree with you that Mary does not appear to have had much choice in the matter, though I view her bearing of testimony about her son to have been charismatic rather than coerced.

  8. For some reason, I thought Annunciation was on Wednesday, and I was so disappointed to realise that I had totally missed it. This post makes me feel better, though :) I’m a little late, but I’ll ponder this today, and probably through the rest of the week as well. Thank you so much for this, and the entire series.

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