Sometimes there is a brave Southwest Airlines flight attendant who likes to crack jokes as she or he announces the usual “verbage” about flying. Well, this is one such announcement. “Welcome aboard Southwest Flight XXX to YYY. To operate your seatbelt, insert the metal tab into the buckle, and pull tight. It works just like every other seatbelt, and if you don’t know how to operate one, you probably shouldn’t be out in public unsupervised. In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will descend from the ceiling. Stop your screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child traveling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are traveling with two small children, decide now which one you love more.
Today is about annunciations.
In a dream, God announces to King David that God will build him a house. His dynasty will live forever; the Messiah will come from David’s line.
The most famous annunciation is the angel appearing to a young woman named Mary of Nazareth. Much paint and much ink has been spilled portraying that moment when Mary heard the greeting of the angel. The paintings often show Mary holding a book at a lectern or reading table. And often there is a tall lily in the room. Some paint the angel as a dove, or a being from heaven, or a piercing light illuminating the room. In her poem, “Annunciation,” Denise Levertov writes,
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
a simple, “How can this be?”
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered…
Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives?
Annunciations bring great responsibilities. God announces to King David a plan for his life. David almost loses the plan with his sinfulness. God announces a plan to Mary of Nazareth. While she remains astounded by the news, she accepts the astounding ministry.
Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in your life and in mine? For many of us here, those annunciations came from family members who said, “It is time to move.” Or maybe we received the announcement, “You cannot do that any more, like driving or caring for oneself.” In the last five months of my life hearing the announcements from doctors that my father needs multiple cardiac surgeries rattle me. But what about the brighter annunciations: births of children and grandchildren and great-grand children? And those of us who are vowed religious, there is no better annunciation than someone who says, “I want to join your community!” Every one of us has ongoing annunciations that demand decisions. Denise Levertov calls these moments “roads of light and storm.” When they open up we decide how to engage them. Sometimes we walk through the doors. Other times we miss those kairotic moments and the “path vanishes.”
In the words of St. Paul, God can strengthen us. Yes the Christian life is a mystery: we are involved in it, yet we still cannot fully give it words. But all Annunciations urge us into the light.
The Eucharist we are about to celebrate is a mystery: not an unknown but a sacrament of salvation. We know that we need God. At the Annunciation, God offers Mary an astounding ministry. And to us, the Lord does the same.
The Rev. Fr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
The 4th Sunday of Advent
Madonna and Child