Today, March 25, is exactly nine months before Christmas. That means today is the Feast of the Annunciation, the celebration of the moment the Virgin Mary received a most peculiar greeting from the angel Gabriel. Traditional depictions of this event usually include some kind of ray of light coming from heaven and hitting Mary in the ear as she hears the angel’s greeting. The symbolism conveyed here is that of the Holy Spirit entering her through her hearing of the word, and that this is the precise moment of the Son of God’s human conception. We moderns might find such conjectures to be fanciful at best, and perhaps they are. But we should not allow our modern scientifically-minded biases to cloud us from a profound truth conveyed by this traditional depiction: it is indeed the hearing of God’s word that the Spirit uses to first stir saving faith in people. I am reminded of St. Paul’s words in Romans chapter 10:
“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”
For Paul, the crucial moment of faith is the hearing of the Gospel message. This would not have been a huge leap for a converted Jew like Paul. Old Testament religion is at its most basic a religion of response to the word of God. He calls, and Abraham obeys. He calls, and Moses goes. He calls, and Israel comes up out of Egypt. He calls, and Samuel anoints David king. He calls, and the prophets proclaim what they hear. He calls, and the people await the coming Messiah. God’s revelation of himself to us in Jesus is a continuation of this principle. Christianity is not fundamentally a method about how we approach God, but a message about how God has already approached us in Jesus Christ. Our responsibility is only to hear, and believe. But even our very hearing is quickened by the Holy Spirit—as was Mary’s hearing of that peculiar greeting two thousand years ago—who alone gives us ears to hear and hearts to believe the Good News of Jesus Christ. So therefore let no man boast, but to God alone be all glory!
This coming Sunday, we will be having an Evensong service. This service, perhaps more so than our normal Communion service, is one largely based on hearing. As a congregation, you will hear Scripture read and prayers sung. By mere external appearance, your role during the service may seem largely passive. But that is not so. Hearing the word of God proclaimed and praised is absolutely foundational to our faith if it is to be construed as the acts of God toward us—and not ours toward him—at all. As you come to the service, I invite you ask the Holy Spirit to open your ears and your heart, that your faith might be nourished and strengthened by God’s word proclaimed in song.
Evensong is a treasure of the Anglican tradition, and so I invite and indeed encourage you to bring friends to this service, especially as we are pleased to welcome the angelic voices of the Chamber Singers of Cairn University. Let us pray that faith may be enkindled anew in us and all who hear God’s word this Sunday.
Blessings in Jesus,