The Annunciation, the event recorded in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel when an angel appeared to Mary and told her that she was to give birth to a son and that she was to call him Jesus, is celebrated by many Christians on 25 March, a full nine months before Christmas day.
It is one of the most frequent occurrences in mediaeval and renaissance Christian art and features in the work of artists such as Botticelli, da Vinci and Caravaggio as well as in the décor of many church buildings.
The African American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) is now little remembered, his most enduring legacy perhaps being Sand Dunes at Sunset which was the first painting by an African American artist to enter the permanent collection of the White House which happened during the Clinton administration.
His father was a minister in the African Methodist Church and Tanner became known for his paintings on religious themes. His The Annunciation painted in 1898 exudes the intensity and warmth of a sudden religious experience and is arguably one of the most striking paintings of the last century or so on this subject.
It is often said that Methodism was habitually squeamish when it came to discussing the role of Mary, perhaps because it was thought a little too high church for some tastes!
But in the interests of ecumenism, we have a lot to learn from Mary—especially as we look to the Annunciation—in terms of discipleship and following Christ. Christian discipleship is the process by which followers grow in the Lord Jesus and are equipped by the Holy Spirit to become more Christ-like. And as Acts puts it, discipleship is a continuing process and day by day the Lord adds to the ‘number those who are being saved’.
We learn from Luke that Mary responds to the angel by saying ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’. John Wesley notes that Mary’s humble faith, consent and expectation might well have been the time of her conceiving. Mary was invited to say ‘yes’ to the Lord in a most extraordinary way and of course we do not all experience such phenomena as that depicted by Tanner. But this same challenge is made to us in those unique moments in life when we are conscious of being invited to say ‘yes’ to God’s will in something important; perhaps life changing, perhaps every day.
As the Methodist Covenant prayer puts it we are provoked to say ‘I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will…I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours.’
A challenge to us all indeed, but visited with the Holy Spirit and overshadowed by God’s power, we are strengthened to walk with Mary the joyful path of obedience and to say ‘yes’ to God’s calling. Amen.
Written by the Minister & Members