Feast of the Annunciation (trans.), St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School, April 10, 2024

And Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’” (Lk. 1:38).

Today we observe the feast of the Annunciation: the occasion, nine months before Christmas, when the angel of the Lord appears to the Blessed Virgin Mary, a young woman of Nazareth, and announces that she will be the mother of the Savior. Mary says “yes,” and things begin to happen. Holy Week and Easter have intervened in the calendar and forced the movement of our celebration of the feast from March 25 to April 10, dropping it into our laps today.

It’s a happy coincidence, because what we observe today is not only a miracle of faith, Mary’s profound willingness to say “yes” to God in extraordinary circumstances; but also something common to all human beings: conception and birth, what we might call an ordinary, occasional, everyday miracle. Think about it: we have all been born into the world; a fact of existence we all share. Some of us may have stories about our birth, narrated by others; but none of us remembers our birth, I guarantee you, and none of us was responsible for our own coming to be. Life is a gift, whatever else we make of it, and no matter what stance we take up in regard to the gift. Whatever we think about this gift of existence, we have all received it.

The political philosopher Hannah Arendt connects this common human experience of birth, the way we come into existence, with the nature of education itself, that great enterprise that we are all engaged in at St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School. In other words, because of the way we are born into the world we are all in need of orientation. Because the world is constantly being renewed by birth, we all need to receive the world and what the world can tell us about itself. In this process of orientation, we rely in part on others who must be trusted: parents and educators, friends and mentors of all sorts, each in their own order, to help us understand. Arendt tells us that as human beings, elders, educators, and students, we all have to take responsibility for the world, for understanding and orienting, especially (especially!) when we recognize that the world is deeply flawed and run amok.

“Education,” Arendt writes, “is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable” (“The Crisis in Education,” in Between Past and Future). She goes on to say that education draws upon our accumulated wisdom and understanding of the world in preparing the way for the new and unforeseen things that the next generation will accomplish, in the task of renewing the world.

It was into this world that Jesus Christ was born, like each of us. He too, like us, had to receive the world, to be educated in the way of the world and to grow in stature and wisdom, as it says elsewhere in the Gospel (Lk. 2:52). He too had to take responsibility for the world, just as all of us must do. He was incarnate in a miraculous way, but he lived a human life.

When Mary said “yes” to the angel, and made possible his birth, she set in motion a revolutionary force. What happened was the new and unanticipated thing that God intended to do in human life, to renew the world and to save it. In Jesus Christ, God took responsibility for the world, with all its disastrous flaws, and charted a new course. “God so loved the world,” it says in the Gospel of John, “that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jo. 3:16). God brought life out of death, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As a part of our liturgy today, some of our fellow students will be reaffirming their faith in what God has done to set the world in a new direction. It’s an extension of that educational process we’re all involved with at St. Andrew’s, but with a new dimension. They will be participating in the revolutionary things that God is doing among us in Jesus Christ to bring a whole new world into being. Today they will receive this life as a gift, which is the only way we can receive it. “And Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’” (Lk. 1:38). May all of us say “yes” in taking responsibility for the world, and “yes” to the new thing that God is doing in it.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee