The Annunciation and the Pandemic
by Drew Darby
As I sit down to write this, the day is almost over. It’s dark and windy out. My wife is attempting to get our daughter to sleep. In spite of not being able to go to work and being stuck at home, it has been a long day: I am the de facto schoolmarm to our five-year-old little ball of energy, trying to keep her focused and learning long enough for my wife to continue to do her work from home in the other room; I finally got through on the phone to my school loan servicer to request a “forbearance due to COVID-19 National Pandemic,” which has delivered a total KO to small businesses like mine, a business for which, by the way, I still have to keep tabs on—even though the lights are out, there are still deliveries to catch, storm leaks to clean up after. And in spite of all that, or underneath it all, or on top of it, today is the Feast of the Annunciation.
There are certain remembrances of the Church that always feel a little funny when you realize they’ve arrived—a little out of time and place—and I really like these ones. They’re an opportunity to think outside the box, in terms of our faith and what we think we know about God and ourselves. We normally associate the Annunciation, the event recorded in Luke in which the archangel Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary and informs her that she shall bear God’s Son, with the Feast of the Incarnation, Christmas. In fact, I have a box of lovely Christmas cards I like to send with a Renaissance depiction of this scene on the fronts. The mighty angel bowing before the humble Virgin, the white lilies of virginal purity but also perhaps the trumpets of an earth-shattering message in his hand—the image in any of its artistic forms always gives me an instant Christmas vibe.
It is a little jarring, therefore, to be thinking of the Annunciation now, and especially this now of all times. Not only am I not thinking about Christmas in March—right now, it seems like we’re all preoccupied with the “COVID-19 National Pandemic” and all the pandemonium and upheaval to our own lives we all get to experience in the comfort and coziness of home confinement. The disease itself is a lurking menace for most of us, as we await the dreaded “Peak” in infections experts warn is coming our way. No, that is a source of background anxiety for most of us hunkered down at home: right now, we’re worried about how to pay our bills, how to keep our kids occupied (let alone educated), even how to simply live with each other for 24 hours a day. No, for most of us, the Coronavirus itself will be the next thing to deal with. Annunciation 2020 truly feels out of place.
And that’s why we need to stop and think about it. Even at the end of the day, even the day after (when this post is most likely to publish)—it’s worth it to stop and think about the Angel’s message, the Virgin’s response. The meaning of it all. Right here and now. At Christmas time, one of the most profound prayers I pray is, “Christ be born in me,” but as I sit here under extreme isolation, smack in the middle of Lent, and Easter services canceled by the bishop, this prayer seems more appropriate than ever: O Holy Son, who is eternally begotten of the Father, be thou conceived in my heart.
At Christmas time, one of the most profound prayers I pray is, “Christ be born in me,” but as I sit here under extreme isolation, smack in the middle of Lent, and Easter services canceled by the bishop, this prayer seems more appropriate than ever: O Holy Son, who is eternally begotten of the Father, be thou conceived in my heart.
Ever since we realized that our local church community was going to be unable to gather together physically, those of us on our digital outreach team knew how important it would be to connect online, and as a part of that, I knew that I’d like to try to write some pieces for the blog to encourage and edify in this stressful time. For some reason—or two or three—writer’s block has been the order of the day for me, but I knew I wanted to put some thoughts down for this day of the Annunciation, at least, and I keep coming back to one idea that I think God has been impressing upon me, and even this has been slow and gradual: that of the revelation of the Divine to the one who looks and listens. Even in the midst of the chaos of home confinement, I have sensed that God has been revealing things to me about my life, giving me new eyes to look at how I lived my life before it was turned upside down: I worry too much about money, I have poured too much of myself into my business, I have “neglected the weightier matters” (Mt 23.23)—that is, seeking the Lord in prayer and study of Scripture. New vision, an unveiling of realities of my life to which I have been blind, seems to be what God has been working in me through this crisis.
The Incarnation of our Lord—his conception, birth, and subsequent life and ministry—is itself revelation. In fact, Jesus is the pinnacle of God’s revelation, in that he shows us who God truly is, what God truly is like. As Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14.9). And it is to this revelation I say, “Let it be with me according to your word” (Lk 1.38). I pray that the Eternally-Begotten will be born in me, again and again, not just so that I can be saved from my sin, but so that I can see myself and others with the newborn eyes of Divinity, that I may be re-made and re-made into an ever more accurate likeness of God.
At this time of pandemic, crisis, fear, and just plain harriedness, I want to challenge anyone who cares to listen: Use this upheaval in your own life as an opportunity to let God in. Let God be conceived in you, be born in you. If you’re out of a job right now, allow that void in your life to be a way for Christ to be present with you in a more meaningful way. If you have kids to take care of and to teach, allow the Spirit into your household and to teach you something about God. If you are ill, use this trial to look to God with a trust you have not yet been able to. I personally pray that God will use this time to continue to show me more things from God’s perspective. I close with a prayer I have written for this special Feast of the Annunciation:O God, who in your Son at his conception fused humanity and divinity, and at his incarnation brought the human family into your loving embrace: Preserve us in this time of sickness and fear, fill us with your love as we shelter in place, soothe our loneliness as we self-isolate, heal our infirmities as we fall ill, give wisdom to our leaders and medical responders as they serve, and above all, grant us your view of things both heavenly and earthly; and by your Holy Spirit, cause your Son to be conceived in us, this and every day. Amen.