The following sermon was preached by Rev. Esko Murto in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel for the Feast of the Annunciation of our Lord (observed 4th of April 2016).
Today I greet you with the same greeting Mary received from the angel: “Greetings, O favoured ones, the Lord is with you.” [Amen.]
On this feast day of Annunciation we will examine specifically the words of promise Gabriel gave to the confused Virgin Mary who could not understand the things this messenger of the Lord described, nor could see how they could ever take place. Gabriel explained: “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 called holy— the Son of God.”
In the Blessed Virgin we have a symbolical representation of not only the New Eve who remained loyal to the word of God instead of rebelling against it like her foremother had done, but also a figure of the Temple of God. The words of how the power of the Most High will overshadow Mary and cause holiness to grow in her womb bring to mind the events centuries before: the consecration of the first temple of Jerusalem, when the glory of God in the form of a cloud covered the temple and sanctified it as the place where his name would reside.
As the mother of God, Mary is now called to serve the Lord as a human temple, giving her body to the Son of God as his first dwelling place during his earthly ministry. In the first temple the ‘memory of God’s name’, that is, his Word, appeared in the darkness of the inner chamber, Holy of Holies. Similarly now, in the darkness of Mary’s womb, the Glory of God appears when this Word and Name of God is made into human form in our Lord Jesus. This is why the Church loves and honours Mary and calls her blessed; not based on her own person, but on her calling and task as the first khristoforos, ‘Christ-bearer’.
Yet as St. Augustine wisely pointed out, the greater miracle still was not that Mary carried Christ in her womb, but that she carried him in her heart as well. And therefore all those who after Mary have come to believe the word of God and to lay hold of Christ Jesus through faith, they too are worthy to receive the greeting of the angel Gabriel: Greetings, O favoured ones!
Maybe somewhat uncommonly, this year we are celebrating the annunciation after Easter. And therefore this year it is especially fitting to turn to the last chapter of Luke, where the evangelist ends his gospel with very similar words we are meditating upon today; so similar in fact, that they cannot be considered just coincidental. After his resurrection, our Lord said to his disciples: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
The Gospel of Luke begins by telling how Christ was born into this world, and it closes by telling how this world will be brought to faith in Christ. It begins with the promise of the power of the most high coming over Mary, and it ends with the promise of power from on high coming to clothe the disciples. What we see taking place with Mary in the Gospel lesson of Annunciation, is mutatis mutandi also speaking about the whole Church of Christ. We too are clothed with the power of the most high, and Christ lives among us. Just as Mary was given the noble task of bearing the son of God, so too, his church now carries Christ among her, bringing his gospel and his saving presence to all nations through the preaching of the gospel.
So the Church of Christ, on the basis of the continual presence of her Lord, is truly the temple of the New Testament, having the glory of God manifested among us through his word and his holy sacraments. It is indeed a wondrous relationship, where the Church carries Christ, but is still carried by Christ, where we are his servants, and yet he gives himself to us continually, where we enjoy the presence of Christ in our hearts, and yet are at the same time kept securely in his heart through the Holy Spirit that clothes us in his love and holy righteousness. In this joyful union we rest and we work, we hear and we proclaim. Thus we, being greeted like Mary was, also end by saying like Mary said: Lord, let it be to me according to your word. Amen.