by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
We call her the Ark of the Covenant, the Burning Bush that’s Not Consumed, She who is More Spacious than the Heavens, the New Eve, the Mother of God (Theotokos), and a host of other symbolic descriptors and titles, but rarely do you hear people acknowledging her role as Evangelist. She isn’t the kind of Evangelist that wrote a Gospel book, like Mathew, Mark, Luke or John. Neither was she the kind of evangelist who stood in the marketplace preaching like Saint Paul did.
According to what’s recorded in the Gospels, she’s a woman of very few words (“His mother said to the servers, ‘Do whatever He tells you.’” ~ John 2:5), yet her faithfulness to God, even in the midst of tremendous struggle, is what makes her such a successful evangelist.
Her mission in life was to do everything in her power to ensure that the world would come closer in unity with her Son. It’s a mission that she desires us to share, because it’s part of what it means for us to be unified with her Son.
And Gabriel came to her and said, “Rejoice, you who are full of God’s grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was overwhelmingly astonished at having received such a greeting. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall 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 father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered 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 called holy—the Son of God. And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” ~ Luke 1:26-38
The Archangel Gabriel tells Mary not to be afraid because, he can see that his greeting frightens her at first: “Rejoice, you who are full of grace.” She’s overwhelmingly astonished because in true humility she doesn’t see herself as anything more than the “servant of the Lord.” However, in her fullness of grace, she’s accepts the mission that God gives her of bearing forth Jesus (the One who Saves) into the world.
It’s significant that we have the icon of Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary on the Holy Doors leading into the altar. In our own efforts to be united to Jesus in word and in deed, the Church asks us to follow this pattern that Mary has shown us in her encounter with the archangel. Just as Gabriel calls down the Holy Spirit on Mary, so also the priest at the altar calls down the Holy Spirit “upon us…and upon these gifts.” It’s truly an awesome (albeit fearful and overwhelmingly astonishing) thing to contemplate, that in those moments where we partake of the gifts, we too have now become like expectant mothers. We too become pregnant, with the expectation that, like the Theotokos, we too should bear Him forth into the world…and by His grace, He empowers us do just that. When we come to partake of the chalice, we too, are asked to give the same response that Mary gave the archangel, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” We too are asked to accept the mission that God gives us.
So, first, we acknowledge that we can’t do anything on our own, but only by accepting God’s grace with humility. Second, we submit to the plan that God has for us—even if it’s not what we want—realizing that the results are in His hands and that we are just opening ourselves up to be good stewards of everything He gives to us.
Now, isn’t it interesting that the first thing Mary does after receiving the Good News is go and share it with the person closest to her…her cousin Elizabeth? “During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” ~ Luke 1:38-39
She went “in haste.” She doesn’t want to waste any time, because the Good News—the Gospel—is urgent! Her example is something that we should relive at least every Sunday, if not every day. So often evangelization is defined as bringing people to Christ, but how much more important is it that we bring Christ to other people through our words and deeds—our willingness to enter into others’ lives in meaningful compassionate ways? God is the one who calls all people to Himself. Yet He gives each of us the vocation to be a faithful witness to the truth. “Go, therefore, and make disciples…and behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” ~ Matthew 28:19-20 God’s in control, but He gives you a role.
Jesus must always remain the center of our lives. It’s all about Him. In zealous and misinformed efforts to be evangelists, people sometimes become religious agitators and extremists, trying to debate with any and everyone who crosses their path. But where is the Good News of Jesus Christ in that? In the end we have to remember that Jesus Christ is our goal. As C.S. Lewis once said, some people “have been so occupied in spreading Christianity, that they never gave a thought to Christ.”
All this merely means that, first and foremost, we have to maintain Christ as the center of our lives, because, we can’t offer to others what we don’t have. Our unity with Jesus Christ is what allows us to bear Him forth into the world.
He’s being offered to us constantly, in the gathering of His Body the Church, in every prayer and hymn and scripture reading and liturgical service of the Church, including the Divine Liturgy, where we may receive Him especially in the gifts of His body and blood from the chalice. It’s there, in habits of proactive engagement with Him that you find your risen Lord, humble and quiet, yet enthroned in all His glory for you to see. As His beloved child, He wants to talk to you. Just be with Him. Let Him hold you. Allow His peace, His mercy, and His love to resonate in your heart as you stand before Him. I guarantee you won’t walk away the same.
Mary had the special gift of being chosen as the vessel through whom Jesus came into the world. We too are given the special gift of being chosen by God to bear forth the Good News of Christ into the world, especially to those closest to us, our friends and coworkers and family. By meditating on the joyful mystery of the Annunciation, we can follow the example that Mary has set for us to also be such evangelists.