A Sermon for
the Feast of
The Annunciation of
the Blessed Virgin Mary
by the Rev. Dr. Robert Crouse
"Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down
righteousness; let the earth open, and bring forth a Saviour."
Introit for this festival speaks to us of a double motion: the descent
of the heavens, and the rising up of earth. It speaks of a world
awakened and made fruitful by the Incarnation of the Word of God.
"As the rain cometh
down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but
watereth the earth and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may
give seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be
that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void,
but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in
the thing whereunto I sent it."
Thus the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the mystery of
the word of God: it is like the rain from heaven, which makes fruitful
the parched and barren earth. God's word goes forth, into all the world,
and causes that world to bear fruit in spiritual life, in words and
deeds of truth and grace, "seed to the sower, and bread to the eater."
Thus man lives most truly by "every word that proceedeth from the mouth
But just what is this dropping of the heavens, this storm of grace;
what is this word that goeth forth? It is the inspiration of the prophet
and the seer expressed in human words; and thus we speak of Scripture as
the word of God. But the word of God, behind the words, is nothing less
than God himself. "In the beginning was the Word", says St. John, "and
the Word was with God, and the Word was God". The Word is God's eternal
and complete self-knowing, the perfect self-uttering, which is not other
than God himself; it is "the word of his power", "the brightness of his
glory, the express image of his person." The Word is, as our Creed
reminds us, "God from God, Light from Light, Very God from Very God".
The Word of God is eternal, and eternally begotten; the Word of God
goes forth within the life of God himself. And the Word of God goes
forth in all creation, for "without him was not anything made that was
made." "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host
of them by the breath of his mouth." That word is the life of every
creature, and "the light that lighteneth every man", in all the world,
from the beginning. And in Redemption, the Word of God goes forth, to
dwell amongst us in the flesh, "that we might behold his glory, the
glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth".
Who but St. John would have dared to say it: "We have touched and
handled of the word of Life".
The rain of grace descends, and the barren furrows of the earth open
to receive the word of God. The word of God goes forth, in words and
signs and sacraments, and is expressed in a myriad of vocations, as the
spirit's gifts are divided, "severally as he will". There must be
prophet and apostle, pastor and teacher, and poet and healer, artist and
craftsman, and all those walks of life we sometimes dare to call
"ordinary". Only in our diversity - only in the whole spectrum - can we
reflect and imitate the infinite goodness and unity of God. Only thus
the word of God in us fills all things, in every aspect of creation, and
returns it all in a symphony of praise. "My word shall not return
empty", says the prophet.
This festival bespeaks a double motion: the descent of the Word, and
the rising up of earth in fruitfulness. And St. Mary is, as it were, the
fulcrum of that double motion. The rain of grace descends: "Hail, thou
that are highly favoured; Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with
thee." And earth rises in response: "Be it unto me according to thy
word". All is the work of grace - sola gratia - yet grace
presupposes nature, which it heals and elevates and transfigures. As St.
Thomas puts it, "Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it."
Mary's place in this is unique. As Romano Guardini remarks:
No one is like her, because what happened to
her happened to no other human being. Here lies the authentic root
of all exaggeration about her. If people cannot be extravagant
enough in their praises of Mary, and even say reckless and foolish
things, they are still right in one respect; even though the means
are faulty, they seek to express a fact the tremendous depth of
which must overwhelm everyone who realizes it.
role of Mary is, indeed, unique, and we celebrate her uniqueness with
thanksgiving: "Blessed art thou among women". Yet there is also there a
paradigm which includes us all. "When I heard the voice of thy
salvation", says Elizabeth, "the babe leaped in my womb." The
Incarnation of the Word - that mighty downpour from the heavens - is to
open up the furrows of all our minds and hearts, that the word of God
might be fruitful in us, that the eternal Son of God might take shape in
us. "I live", says St. Paul, "yet not I, but Christ in me."
"But how shall these things be?" "Fear not, Mary - fear not, O soul -
for thou hast found favour with God". "With God, nothing shall be
impossible": the barren soul conceives and bears, and blessed, indeed,
is the fruit of that womb. "Be it unto me according to thy word." With
that assent, the ice of barren ages breaks, the heavens pour down
streams of grace, and the wintry earth thaws and opens up its furrows.
Wherefore in mystical song, the Word of God called to Mary, and to
all the word-conceiving, word-bearing Church:
Rise up, my love,
my fair one, and come away.
For lo, the winter is past. The flowers appear
upon the earth, the time of the singing of the
birds is come. Rise up, my love, my fair one,
and come away. Come away.
[Song of Songs 2]