Annunciation Homily - The Summary of our Salvation

Today is the summary of our salvation!” Those are the very first words in the Apolytikion hymn for today’s Great Feast of the Annunciation. “Today is the summary of our salvation…and the revelation of the age-old mystery.” Well…what is this mystery that’s being revealed to us- today... …this age-old mystery? The hymn goes on to answer that very question for us, “The Son of God becomes the Son of the virgin, and Gabriel announces the Good News of grace.  Therefore, let us join him, and cry aloud to the Theotokos: “rejoice, Maiden full of grace! The Lord is with you.”” 

Today is the summary of our salvation!

In my younger years, growing up as a Protestant, the respect, and honor and veneration that we heard some people give to Jesus’ mother, Mary, was especially abhorrent to us. When they made it sound like Mary was a part of their salvation…we recoiled in repulsion against it…because we knew without a doubt…(or at least we thought we knew)…that salvation was something that came only from Christ’s death on a cross…from His paying a debt of death to His Father so that justice might be satisfied and His Father’s wrath might be appeased. But, as I found out many years later, we had a very shallow, limited, and a partly false understanding of God’s salvation for His creation. In fact, some of it was closer to a pagan idea of God than one that followed the scriptures.

Today is the summary of our salvation!

You see, as Protestants, we prided ourselves on the fact that we used the bible as our sole source of authority (sola scriptura)…yet there were a lot of the scriptures that we ignored… …those bible verses where God was telling us about what He regarded as salvation…we ignored them, because they didn’t fit our very feeble, myopic model of salvation. Please forgive me for listing them out right now, but here are just a few of the more blatant ones:   

·      1 Corinthians 9:22 tells us that Saint Paul saves.

·      1 Timothy 4:16 tells us that Saint Timothy saves.

·      1 Corinthians 7:16 tells us that one’s spouse can save the other.

·      Jude 1:23 tells us that Christians may save others.

·      1 Timothy 2:15 tells us that childbearing can save.

·      Acts 11:14 tells us that the apostles' words save.

·      Mark 16:16 & 1 Peter 3:20-21 tell us that baptism saves.

·      Isaiah 30:15 says repentance and rest in God saves.

·      Jeremiah 4:14 tells us that washing evil thoughts from the heart saves.

·      Matthew 10:22, & Matthew 24:13 tells us that enduring in Christ till the end saves. 

·      Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, & Luke 9:24 tell us that losing one’s life for Christ’s sake saves.

·      Hebrews 5:7 tells us that piety & prayer saves.

·      James 2:14 tells us that our works of mercy [different from works of the law] save.

·      James 5:20 tells us that Christian prayer can save.

·      James 5:15 tells us that turning others from error can save.

So…what we discover, when we pay just a little bit of honest attention to what God says about salvation, is that He has something much more comprehensive, more far-reaching, more natural and organic, something much fuller in mind for HIS plan of our salvation. And, while Christ is certainly the central figure in the story of our salvation (in His conquering death by death…in His filling death with His own glorified, divine life)…both our own and the world’s salvation also involves followers of Christ, who put off their own self-absorption to embrace unity with our Lord…in living out their communion with Christ on behalf of others. And the leading character in that way of self-offering-communion-with-Christ, is our Lady, the Theotokos, Mary the Mother of God. she’s the model of what that all looks like.  

Today is the summary of our salvation!

More Spacious.jpg

As I was being received into the Orthodox Church, this was a concept that was especially difficult for me. How could so much emphasis be put on Mary? As I looked around observing all the iconography in the Church, I couldn’t help but notice that she took up a very prominent place.  I mean, first of all, she was right there in the apse, as big as all outdoors. In fact, not only was she as big as all outdoors…but I found out that the name of that icon was, “She Who Is More Spacious Than The Heavens,” because she holds within her womb, He who created the heavens and all the rest of creation. She was also on some of the festal icons on the top of the iconostas (this big wall of icons we’ve got at the front of the Church here). She was also on the iconostas, just to the left of the Holy Doors, leading into the altar.  And, she was also even on the Holy Doors in an icon depicting the Annunciation. The Theotokos was featured prominently all over the place in the Orthodox Church. Not to mention the fact that she was also featured so conspicuously in the hymnology. They even sang something that kinda’ scandalized me, “Most holy Theotokos, save us.” Unfortunately, we’ve sanitized that here in this parish, so that it doesn’t scandalize any of our own people. Here, we changed it to “Most holy Theotokos intercede for us.” …because asking the Theotokos to save us is simply preposterous! It goes to show, that even we Orthodox Christians sometimes unwittingly succumb to the Christian west’s shallow notions of salvation. But folks, the ancient tradition of the Church has always taught that God has something more inclusive in mind for salvation…because it actually involves humanity…of which Mary is at the heart. The Greek actually says, “Yper-aghia Theotoke soson imas!” Soson means save! “Most holy Theotokos, save us.” My dear, precious, brothers and sisters in Christ, the Church wants us to come to grips with something here today, as we celebrate the Great Feast of the Annunciation.

Today is the summary of our salvation!

How is the story within Annunciation the summary of our salvation? First, because we begin experiencing salvation when we respond to God the way Mary responded in Luke 1:38, saying, “Let it be with me according to your word”…when we relinquish control. When we surrender to the mystery, entrusting ourselves to the Unknowable, then we’ve finally opened our womb for God’s presence to be formed there in us. “Let it be!” are our words of creation which resonate and harmonize with God’s words of creation “Let there be!” When St. Gregory Palamas spoke about Mary, he said, “She, who was fashioned by God through grace … she now shapes God in human form.”  So, with her as our guide, we discover that we are only saved when we can put ourselves aside enough to let God be formed within us, in human form…incarnating Him…giving Him human flesh within the world.

Today is the summary of our salvation!

Today’s Great Feast of the Annunciation offers a correction to those of us who accept the shallower understanding of Bethlehem as the true birthplace of our Lord. Rather, humanity is the true birthplace of our Lord.  How amazing is that?! God has chosen humanity to give birth, to give life, to make real…God in this world. That says a lot about what God thinks of us. So often, we look at ourselves and say, “I’m only human! What do you expect?” But God looks at us and says, “humanity, created in my image toward My likeness should become united with the divine in a very real and organic and powerful way! And they (Christians) shall be the ones through whom, by whom, and in whom my Son will be born.”

Today is the summary of our salvation!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that’s why you see the Theotokos so prominently in icons that are in such close proximity to what you see going on at the altar…and there in the chalice. She has everything to do with what’s going on there at the altar. She has everything to do with you, when you come to partake from that chalice…when God asks you to take His Son into yourself…and you give your answer, “Let it be to me as You have said”…and as we partake…and the Holy Spirit comes upon us…the source of all Life, Himself, begins to grow inside us. We’re all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it is the Lord was with her, if He’s not also with me? When, from the chalice, His body and blood come to live inside us…we’re supposed to become “More Spacious Than The Heavens.” Then we’re supposed to become Theotokos…God-bearers into the world. How sad it would be for ME if this eternal birth of the divine Son (the One who we say is begotten of the Father eternally)…if that birth takes place unceasingly… but I refused to participate with God, preventing this birth from taking place within myself? How sad it would be for God to be borne-forth into the world from Mary, but never borne-forth from me! And what good is it to me if Mary is given the Good News of grace and is full of God’s grace…if I’m not also full of God’s grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to His Son if I don’t also give birth to Him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time…when the Son of God is begotten in us. Our salvation depends upon us becoming unified with God in this way.

Today is the summary of our salvation!

Today’s Great Feast of the Annunciation challenges us to answer the question: How will we give birth to the Son of God in our time and in our culture? In our local communities, in our schools and workplaces, in our families, in our churches, in meeting the needs of the poor, in turning toppled things back aright, in our relationships, in our brokenness and pain, in our joys and celebrations… our Lord must be borne-forth from us into all of those!

Annunciation Doors.jpg

As you come to partake of the body and blood of Christ…as He asks to be formed in you…to be borne-forth from you into the world…recognize that today is the summary of your salvation…and come giving the same answer that the Theotokos gave…
Let it be to me as You have said!