Today is the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Luke records,
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.
This year, the Annunciation falls at a time when much of the world is in lockdown. This, inevitably, provides the backdrop against which we hear, again, the exchange between Gabriel and Mary, between Elizabeth and Mary, and Mary’s song. It proclaims the house of David, the house of Jacob, and the house of Zechariah pregnant with new potential, and our understanding of our own households, not ‘known’ by another, as spaces that may be known as holy and transformed in a moment by the creator Spirit and our ‘yes!’
And Mary’s song, as a proclamation for our times. God, scattering the proud, bringing the powerful down from their thrones, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things, sending the rich away empty. I have heard some people say, in these days of fires and floods and pandemic, that these are acts of divine judgement — usually swiftly followed by, on such-and-such a type of person I disapprove of. They are not. But, every moment, every event, is pregnant with both God’s judgement and God’s mercy, and in some times — such as these — even those as distracted as we might see it.
We know, or ought to, that these days will fall hardest on those who have the least resources, unless, of course, we repent of our self-interest and pursue, together, a common good that leaves no one behind, but pays attention to the most vulnerable. And might continue to do so, once the immediate crisis is past, for, there will be others. In global terms, we, in the West, are collectively the proud, the powerful, the rich.
When I read of multi-millionaire chairmen of national chains refusing to support their employees, putting them at risk or sending them away to any port in a storm, I hope that when this is past, not one of their former employees, having found a more just and merciful employer, will return to them; and that no one take their place. That such men be scattered and brought down. If that sounds jarring, coming from a Church of England vicar, then perhaps you have forgotten the soundtrack. But we sing, or say, Mary’s song, the Magnificat, each day at Evening Prayer. A song so revolutionary, it has been banned in certain parts of the world at certain times.
Can you hear her singing?