The Annunciation

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.

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.[1] 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)?[2]

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.

* * *

The Benedictus (The Song of Zechariah),[3]
Normally Sung in Morning Prayer

————

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.

————

[1] Luke 1:46-55 appears as an Evening Prayer, Magnificat (“The Song of Mary”) in the Church of England’s 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.

[2] 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.)

[3] Luke 1:68-79 appears as the Morning Prayer, Benedictus (“The Song of Zechariah”) in the 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.

Comments

  1. Mary Ann says:

    One of the things I love about the Book of Mormon is it’s witness of Mary. It begins with Nephi, but continues with both King Benjamin and Alma the Younger who prophesy her name over a hundred years before she is born. I always wonder what exactly King Lamoni had witnessed when the first words he spoke to his wife after coming out of the coma were glorifying in the fact that Christ would be born of a woman. Thanks for this reminder of Mary’s special role.

  2. The PangWitch says:

    i remember a post you did years ago where you affirmed jeffrey holland’s idea that missionaries are entitled to the ministering of angels, and should expect to experience that on a mission. IIRC you said they should expect to raise the dead as well. I did not see any angels on my mission.

  3. Jason K. says:

    Thanks for this, John. Happy Lady Day!

  4. PangWitch, are you referring to this?

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2006/04/the-inadequacy-of-our-missionaries/

    In that post, I actually lamented that our missionaries aren’t out performing the visible miracles that are recorded as having followed disciples in ancient times as they went about preaching Christ:

    Each of us had the same priesthood as Peter; apparently, however, we did not have the same level of faith — not even close. Speaking for myself, I was too immature spiritually and emotionally to have the confidence to stand forth and bid him to rise and walk. That each of us was prompted to take the action that Peter took and not a single one of us did demonstrates the sheer inadequacy of our missionaries. It pains me to this day.

    I really do believe that we have or should have the potential for this kind of miracle working and am still puzzled why we don’t do this. Is it a lack of confidence?

    As to angels, the concept of them fascinates me, and I want to believe and, accordingly, I do believe that the accounts we have in the scriptures of their presence and various assignments are true and beneficial to us today. I believe that, in theory, we are entitled to their visitation today as well. I have seen many of the human-version angels who do saintly work among the downtrodden (many who are Mormons and vastly more who are not, simply as a function of our miniscule percentage of the overall population). I believe as a tenet of religious faith that it is possible to have a visual encounter with angelic messengers as well.

  5. That surprises me because I’ve noticed how little attention this blog pays to Mary’s role. I did a word search on the Advent and Christmas posts and found the mentions of Mary to be few and far between.

    Of course, being Catholic, I expect Mary to have a prominent role (“Of Mary, there is never enough.” St. Bernard of Clairvaux) and I understand that this is a Mormon blog. Even so, she was conspicuous by her absence.

  6. In my previous post, “That” refers to the Book of Mormon giving a witness to Mary’s special role.

  7. I just read your piece on having Kiva FHE. Outstanding! Are you a member of the Kiva Mormons lending team? If not consider this a formal invitation.

  8. Mary Ann says:

    Emmasrandomthoughts, you aren’t imagining things. Mormons don’t tend to emphasize Mary as much, perhaps a relic of our early attempts to differentiate ourselves from other Christian traditions. Mormons searching for the divine feminine will focus on our doctrine of Heavenly Mother, and we are continually instructed in temple ceremonies to identify with Mother Eve. Mary typically enters the discussion at Christmas and Easter. Given how little we know of her scripturally there’s been a lot of questionable speculation surrounding her in the past, especially concerning the conception of Jesus, so most orthodox discussion nowadays will tread lightly.

    My view is probably not a typical one. A few months back I was examining New Testament figures (besides Christ) prophesied in the Book of Mormon. Besides Mary, we have John the Baptist (unnamed, but referred to by both Lehi and Nephi), John the Beloved (mentioned by Nephi, Christ, and Moroni), and the Twelve Apostles as a group (mentioned by Lehi, Nephi, Christ, and Mormon). Given the weight of those individuals, I thought it significant that Mary got an equal amount of facetime. Most members are familiar with Nephi’s description that John quoted in the OP. We don’t tend to discuss as much King Benjamin’s angelic visitation where her name was revealed, or that Alma made a point to mention her name in his discourse to the people of Gideon. King Lamoni’s comment to his wife is curious to me, especially given the fact that his wife was among the generation to be celebrated as the mothers of the stripling warriors. Mary’s appearance in the Book of Mormon is even more significant to me given the reputation it has for lacking female role models.