A Sermon for
the Feast of
The Annunciation of
the Blessed Virgin Mary
By Dr. Robert Crouse
The ancient Introit for this festival speaks to us of a double motion: the descent of the heavens, and the rising up of earth. It speaks of a world awakened and made fruitful by the Incarnation of the Word of God."As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereunto I sent it." (Isa.55)Thus the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the mystery of the word of God: it is like the rain from heaven, which makes fruitful the parched and barren earth. God's word goes forth, into all the world, and causes that world to bear fruit in spiritual life, in words and deeds of truth and grace, "seed to the sower, and bread to the eater." Thus man lives most truly by "every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God."
But just what is this dropping of the heavens, this storm of grace; what is this word that goeth forth? It is the inspiration of the prophet and the seer expressed in human words; and thus we speak of Scripture as the word of God. But the word of God, behind the words, is nothing less than God himself. "In the beginning was the Word", says St. John, "and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". The Word is God's eternal and complete self-knowing, the perfect self-uttering, which is not other than God himself; it is "the word of his power", "the brightness of his glory, the express image of his person." The Word is, as our Creed reminds us, "God from God, Light from Light, Very God from Very God".
The Word of God is eternal, and eternally begotten; the Word of God goes forth within the life of God himself. And the Word of God goes forth in all creation, for "without him was not anything made that was made." "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth." That word is the life of every creature, and "the light that lighteneth every man", in all the world, from the beginning. And in Redemption, the Word of God goes forth, to dwell amongst us in the flesh, "that we might behold his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth". Who but St. John would have dared to say it: "We have touched and handled of the word of Life".
The rain of grace descends, and the barren furrows of the earth open to receive the word of God. The word of God goes forth, in words and signs and sacraments, and is expressed in a myriad of vocations, as the spirit's gifts are divided, "severally as he will". There must be prophet and apostle, pastor and teacher, and poet and healer, artist and craftsman, and all those walks of life we sometimes dare to call "ordinary". Only in our diversity - only in the whole spectrum - can we reflect and imitate the infinite goodness and unity of God. Only thus the word of God in us fills all things, in every aspect of creation, and returns it all in a symphony of praise. "My word shall not return empty", says the prophet.
This festival bespeaks a double motion: the descent of the Word, and the rising up of earth in fruitfulness. And St. Mary is, as it were, the fulcrum of that double motion. The rain of grace descends: "Hail, thou that are highly favoured; Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." And earth rises in response: "Be it unto me according to thy word". All is the work of grace - sola gratia - yet grace presupposes nature, which it heals and elevates and transfigures. As St. Thomas puts it, "Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it."
Mary's place in this is unique. As Romano Guardini remarks:No one is like her, because what happened to her
happened to no other human being. Here lies the
authentic root of all exaggeration about her. If
people cannot be extravagant enough in their
praises of Mary, and even say reckless and foolish
things, they are still right in one respect; even
though the means are faulty, they seek to express
a fact the tremendous depth of which must overwhelm
everyone who realizes it.
The role of Mary is, indeed, unique, and we celebrate her uniqueness with thanksgiving: "Blessed art thou among women". Yet there is also there a paradigm which includes us all. "When I heart the voice of thy salvation", says Elizabeth, "the babe leaped in my womb." The Incarnation of the Word - that mighty downpour from the heavens - is to open up the furrows of all our minds and hearts, that the word of God might be fruitful in us, that the eternal Son of God might take shape in us. "I live", says St. Paul, "yet not I, but Christ in me."
"But how shall these things be?" "Fear not, Mary - fear not, O soul - for thou hast found favour with God". "With God, nothing shall be impossible": the barren soul conceives and bears, and blessed, indeed, is the fruit of that womb. "Be it unto me according to thy word." With that assent, the ice of barren ages breaks, the heavens pour down streams of grace, and the wintry earth thaws and opens up its furrows.
Wherefore in mystical song, the Word of God called to Mary, and to all the word-conceiving, word-bearing Church:Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.Amen. +
For lo, the winter is past. The flowers appear
upon the earth, the time of the singing of the
birds is come. Rise up, my love, my fair one,
and come away. Come away.
[Song of Songs 2]