Richard Maxwell

Feast of the Annunciation
25 March 2014
Grace Episcopal Church

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord.”  This is the response Mary eventually gives to Gabriel after the angel tells her the astonishing news that she will be the mother of the Son of God.”  “Here am I.”

Those of you who are familiar with the book of Isaiah might hear the echo of his response to God’s call in these words, “Here am I.”  Isaiah writes about God’s call to him in the 6th chapter of his book.  He has a vision of the Lord, sitting on a throne, surrounded by winged seraphs who call to one another with words we recognize from the mass.  The seraphs sing out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  Isaiah is terrified to be in the presence of the Lord because he is, as he says, a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips.  Then, in the vision, one of the seraphs flies to Isaiah holding a live coal that has been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.  The seraph touches Isaiah’s mouth with the coal and says:  “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”  And the voice of the Lord is heard saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  Isaiah says, “Here am I; send me!”

Here am I.  Send me.

With a little reflection, you’ll notice that Isaiah’s story is an excellent outline of the spiritual life . . . of ANY of our spiritual lives.  The spiritual life generally begins with the revelation of the magnificent divinity of God to the individual.  It may not be a blinding vision such as Isaiah received . . . it may be a far more subtle and gradual process . . . but the conscious spiritual life begins with the conscious recognition of the enormity of the Other . . . of the magnificence of God.  And with that recognition comes the realization of our own insignificance . . . of our flawed finitude.  The contrast between the perfection of God and the imperfection of ourselves, calls repentance from us . . . the asking for forgiveness and a promise to turn our lives around.  God always forgives the penitent heart.  But there may be some pain involved.  Lots of folks skip over the bit about the live coal being applied to Isaiah’s lips . . . any of us who have had to confront the need for true repentance know something about this.  But, have no fear, this is only the beginning of the spiritual life.  What follows is the truly important part . . . the call of God . . . and the soul’s response:  “Here I am.  Send me.”

Many scholars argue that Luke is very consciously putting Isaiah’s words into Mary’s mouth when she responds to the angel, Gabriel.  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.”  Of course, the follow-up words to that statement, here am I, are different from Isaiah’s, but the sense is the same:  do with me as you will.  In fact Mary goes on to say, “Let it be with me according to your word.”  Do with me as you wish; send me where you want.  I am yours.  Here am I.

Here I am.  Send me.

For the great majority of us, this self-giving is enormously difficult . . . it’s never finished . . . it’s never fully accomplished.  Once we become aware of the call to give ourselves to God, we realize that the challenge comes to us over and over again . . . each and every day . . . my will or God’s? . . . my will or God’s?  My desires and dreams and ambitions . . . or God’s?  Which will I tend to?  Which comes first?  When we’re lucky our will and God’s will seem to coincide . . . but so very frequently, this is not the case.  St. Paul, for example, didn’t WANT to become the apostle to the Gentiles . . . he wanted to be a brilliant and respected Jewish scholar.  St. Francis didn’t WANT to become an ascetic monk pledged to absolute poverty . . . he wanted to be a rich and famous warrior, a member of the aristocracy.  And Mary?  I very much doubt that her girlhood dreams revolved around being the mother of the Christ . . . with all of the challenges and sorrows that this calling brought her.  But each of them said, in their own way, “Here I am.  Send me.”

Those words have been rolling around in my little brain for a while.

In fact, I’ve begun to hear them when I say the Lord’s Prayer, especially with the phrases, “Thy Kingdom COME, Thy will be Done.”  I fear that too often, when we say those words, we hear something like, “Oh yeah . . . the Kingdom of God . . . yeah, sure . . . I’d really like that to . . . uh . . . happen . . . some day.  Peace and good will and all that stuff . . . yeah, that’d be great.  But, ya know, the world really IS a mess right now . . . I mean, I don’t see how it’s all gonna get straightened out . . . certainly not in MY lifetime.  And I certainly don’t see how I can do anything about it.”  No . . . I don’t think that that’s what God hopes we will hear when we say, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.”  I think God hopes that we will hear . . . and MEAN . . . something more like, “Here I am.  Send me!”

After all, I think it’s pretty useless to ask for the Kingdom to be established and God’s will be done if we aren’t willing to do something about it ourselves.  We are the agents of the creative Spirit in this world.  Real advance in the spiritual life means accepting this calling and everything it involves.  We cannot be passive observers.  We are, after all, the Body of Christ.  As St. Teresa of Avila wrote: “Christ has no body now but yours; no hands, no feet on earth but yours; yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world.  Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

Here I am, send me!  It takes courage to say that, doesn’t it?  Just as it takes honesty to truly repent and turn our lives around.

Perhaps we should consider the possibility that the point of today’s story is not that Mary is the holiest of young women, but rather that perhaps the point of today’s story is that she’s the most courageous of women, as she says to God, “Yes.  Here I am . . . right here before you.  I am yours.  Do with me as you wish.”  God is asking her to participate in a seemingly impossible event, the birth of the divine in human form, and yet there she stands . . . feet firmly planted on the ground . . . refusing to run from God; agreeing to do whatever God wants.  Her agreement, her pledge, her vow will not keep her rooted in one place . . . Mary’s life is filled with movement and change . . . but she WILL remain constant in the presence of God.  This mother of God will certainly never try to run away from God . . . but rather, each day will say, “Here I am . . . send me.”

So . . . whatca think?  Ya wanna join Mary?  You don’t have to be the holiest of holy people to say “Yes!” to God . . . to say, “Here am I.”  Isaiah showed us that . . . so did Paul . . . so did Francis . . . and countless other saints.  But . . . in the face of God’s magnificence . . . you DO have to be honest . . . admit your sins . . . desire to turn your life around . . . confess your love . . . and not try to run away from God.  God will forgive; God will provide the strength and the courage; God will give you grace . . . God will give you everything you need.  But you have to be able to say, “Here am I.”  And mean it!

What better way to celebrate this feast day than to join Mary, and Isaiah, and countless others who have said and are still saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.”  “Send me!”  “Do with me as you will.

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