Annunciations from the Margins

Greetings favoured ones! I begin this series with a little annunciation in the style of the Angel Gabriel, “Greetings favoured ones! As Advent begins, we begin our explorations of what I am calling “Parables of DIVINITY.” Parables are stories designed to turn our carefully held ways of being upside-down and inside-out and make us re-think our carefully held assumptions. Advent is the perfect time to take a closer look at some of the parables told by our ancestors about the MYSTERY of the LOVE which is DIVINITY. Now, I am often asked if the parables we tell during Advent are true. By which my questioners usually mean, “Did these parables actually happen the way the bible says they happened?” To which I always respond, “ABSOLUTLY! They are most certainly true!” I then add the words of New Testament scholar Marcus Borg, who would insist, “I don’t know if these things happened the way they are written in the bible. But I do know that they are true.” Our Parables of DIVINITY series begins with a splendid parable in which truth is revealed. It is the kind of truth which has the power to turn our carefully held assumptions inside-out and upside-down. Unfortunately, the radical nature of our first Parable of DIVINITY has been domesticated and simplified, dumbed down, and rendered mundane and inoffensive. Inoffensive that is except for the matter of that tiny little word which is the victim of so many inaccurate translations. If only the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Matthew hadn’t made such a rookie error when he translated the Hebrew in the Book of Isaiah into Greek, we wouldn’t have so much explaining to do. You see whoever this Matthew was, he certainty didn’t pay enough attention when he attempted to use the words of Isaiah to describe Mary of Nazareth. Instead of doing his homework, Matthew relied on the work of previous male translators who mansplained a simple Hebrew noun into Greek which resulted in a young woman named Mary ending up as a perpetual virgin. I kid you not. These gentlemen translators managed to take the Hebrew word for a  “young woman” mistranslate it into Greek as “virgin”, and the anonymous guy we call Matthew either never bothered to check his Greek Septuagint, or for reasons of his own, he decided that Mary was a not just a young woman but also a virgin and years later the Church, and I’m talking about the Imperial Church of Rome here, they added the perpetual part and before long, women everywhere have had to deal with the glorification, or the vernation, and objectification of virginity. But I digress. Insane notions tying virginity and motherhood up in a neat bow while tying women up in knots is a subject for another sermon. 

What I want to talk about today are two Parables of DIVINITY, which I’m calling “Annunciations from the Margins. “Annunciation” from the Latin verb “annuntiare” which can be translated as “to announce” or “to proclaim” or my favourite translation, “to bring tidings.” Usually during Advent, these tidings are thought of as “tidings of great joy.” But not all tidings are joyous. Especially when those tidings are delivered to people who live in the margins of society. Before we deal with the familiar parable of the Annunciation of the YOUNG WOMAN Mary, I’d like to remind you of the first Annunciation parable in the Bible. Now some of you may think I’m talking about the parable of Hannah which is found in 1st Samuel. Probably because Hannah’s Song finds expression in Mary’s Magnificat.  These are parables we’ll get to later in Advent. For now, you’ll have to cast your minds all the way back to the book of Genesis to discover the first Annunciation parable. Genesis 16 to be exact. Listen to this marvelous translation of the parable of the Annunciation of Hagar. You remember Hagar from the story of Sarah and Abraham. Our parable takes place back when Sarah went by the name Sarai. By the way, Sarai is a Hebrew name which translates as “my princess” or as I like to think of Sarah it can also be translated as DININITY’s Princess. As you no doubt remember, Hagar was the woman Abraham turned to when DIVINITY’s Princess could not conceive a child. Like Sarah, Hagar would become the mother of nations. But as our parable begins the women are estranged and Hagar has run away, she’s taken flight. Listen to the Annunciation of Hagar:

“Now the messenger of the ALL-SEEING GOD found Hagar by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And the messenger said, “Hagar, slave girl of Sarai, from where have you come and where are you going?” And Hagar said, “From my mistress Sarai am I fleeing.”

The messenger of the INSCRUTABLE GOD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and subject yourself to her.” The messenger of the WELLSPRING OF LIFE said to Hagar, “Greatly will I multiply your seed, so they cannot be counted for multitude.” Then the messenger of the FOUNT OF LIFE said to Hagar, “Look!  You are pregnant and shall give birth to a son, and you shall call him Ishmael (meaning GOD hears), for the FAITHFUL ONE has heard of your abuse, He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; and he shall live in the sight of all his kin.” So, Hagar named the LIVING GOD who spoke to her: “You are El-ro’i”; for she said, “Have I really seen GOD and remained alive after seeing GOD?”

Sometimes I forget that Hagar and not Moses is the first to be heralded by our ancestors for having seen DIVINITY and lived. Hagar a woman living in the margins, in slavery, fearing for her life, flees for her life and she sees DIVNITY and she lives. Hagar the name itself is of Arabic origin and can be translated as “stranger” or “forsaken” or “one who flees”. Remember when reading parables, especially Parables of DIVINITY, pay attention to the names, they will reveal truth to those who listen carefully. Hagar is an Egyptian slave whose position in the household of DIVINITY’s Princess is marginal. The announcement of her pregnancy may or may not be good news. It all depends upon what position you are in, and Hagar’s parable sets her squarely in the margins of the society in which the parable is set. Indeed, it could be said that the character Hagar’s subsequent role as mother of the nations of Islamic people continues to set Hagar and her descendants in the margins of many of the communities in which we live.

So, let’s pay attention to another Annunciation from the margins, the annunciation we are more familiar with. This parable comes to us from the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call Luke. Sadly, this anonymous guy follows in the footsteps of the other anonymous guy, and the YOUNG WOMAN in question is labeled a virgin, a highly favoured one at that, in Luke’s parable. Why is it that male translators seem to favour their woman as virgins; saying more about them than it says about the YOUNG women. Listen to this translation of the anonymous guy’s parable:

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by GOD  to a town in Galilee, Nazareth, to a virgin  maiden young woman betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the name of the virgin was Mary. And the angel came to Mary and said, “Rejoice, favoured one! The MOST HIGH GOD is with you.” Now Mary was troubled by the angel’s words and pondered what sort of greeting this was.

Then the angel said to her, “Fear not Mary, for you have Found favour with GOD.

And now, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.

He will be great and will be called the CHILD of the MOST HIGH, and the SOVEREIGN GOD will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his sovereignty there will be no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have not known a man intimately?”

The angel said to her, “The HOLY SPIRIT, SHE will come upon you, and the power of the MOST HIGH will overshadow you; therefore the one born will be holy. The child will be called the CHILD of GOD. And now, Elizabeth your kinswoman has even conceived a child in her old age, and this is the sixth month for she who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with GOD.”

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the woman-servant of GOD; let it be with me according to your word.”

Then the angel left Mary.”

Let’s clear up another translation choice which is made. The Hebrew word “malak” which in Greek becomes “aggelos” which is often anglicized as angel, but actually translates as messenger or quite literally someone who “goes and tells.” A messenger from DIVINITY goes and tells, proclaims, or makes an annunciation that a child is to be born and, in that child, rests the hope of multitudes.

Where once there was no hope at all with the annunciation of the impending birth of a child, hope is restored. And to whom is that hope announced? Well, if we pay attention, we can hear hope announced to those who are in the margins, to those in precarious positions. So, now if you aren’t asking how or why these particular Parables of DIVINITY turn our carefully held ways of being upside-down and inside-out and make us re-think our carefully held assumptions, then I’m not much of a preacher.

What truth is revealed in these Parables of DIVINITY? What can we learn from these Annunciations from the Margins? Some things are obvious. GOD speaking to marginalized communities is a familiar theme. GOD speaking to the poor and the oppressed, the lost and the least, the stranger, the fleeing, the refugee, and those in fear, this we’ve heard many times, nothing here to challenge my assumptions. That the DIVINE MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call “GOD” favours the poor, the oppressed, the lost, the least, the stranger and the fearful, is an assumption which doesn’t need challenging, for this is most certainly true. I must look elsewhere in these parables if my carefully held assumptions are to be challenged.

This week, as I struggled with these parables trying to wrestle out a fresh morsel of truth, I was blessed to hear an interview of the remarkable Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister on the topic of “prophetic spirituality” and Sister Joan asked a question which resonates in me. You see, I’ve always been suspicious of prophets, especially the kind who presume to speak for God. How can anyone know that what there are hearing comes from the DIVINE ONE, the ONE who IS LOVE itself? Maybe it’s GOD we’re hearing or maybe it’s our own self-serving ego, or just our fondest of desires.

How do we know the messengers Hagar and Mary received annunciations from were even from GOD? How can any one person know the will of the DIVINE MYSTERY which is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also? My carefully held assumptions, my tightly held suspicions usually leave me scoffing at the idea that anyone has actually heard the WORD of the DIVINE, or received a message from GOD, or is a messenger sent by DIVINITY. Alas, my carefully, tightly held suspicions were challenged by Sister Joan, who proclaimed a message to me like the angel, the messenger of DIVINITY which she is. “When trying to discern the will of the LOVE which is DIVINITY, we must always, always ask ourselves if what we are hearing is good news for the least among us.”

First, we must identify the least among us, the poor, the oppressed, the strangers, those fleeing for their lives, refugees, the fearful, yes, I’m talking about the marginalized. Then we must ask, is what I’m hearing, what I’m feeling, what I’m sure is true, “Is it good news for the least among us?”

Hagar and Mary, they heard good news. As desperate as their lives had become good news came in the message of hope for the future. Sometimes in our efforts to identify the least among us, we forget ourselves, or that part of ourselves which is the least of who we can be. Sometimes the least can be found within. Can we hear the LOVE which is DIVINITY speak to the least of who we are? Is what we are hearing about the least among us, and the least within us, is it good news? If not then, how can the LOVE which is the SOURCE of ALL BEING, be the source of what we are hearing? If it is good news for the least among us, and the least in us, then surely it is the will of LOVE! Decerning WISDOM requires our attention to the least among us and the least within us.

By the way, in case you’re wondering the name Mary, comes from the Hebrew name Miriam whose origins can be traced back to several different ancient words. Mary can be translated as “beloved”, or “bitter” or “rebellious”. I’ve long since given up thinking of Mary as a virgin. For the life of me, I can’t see perpetual virginity as good news for anyone, let alone the least among us. But I can certainly proclaim the good news of Mary as “bitter” for who wouldn’t be bitter after having been impregnated at such a young age, and then left alone to deal with the consequences on her own. Don’t get me started on the New Testament scholars who offer up textual evidence of the possibility that Mary was raped by her Roman oppressors. Surely, a bitter Mary would receive the annunciation that God’s favour had not left her as good news. As for the rebellious Mary, I can see her now, defying all logic and standing firm at the site of her son’s execution. It is her steadfast witness to the truth of Jesus’ Way of confronting violence without resorting to violence which makes her BELOVED Mary. BELOVED for Mary the bitter, rebellious, marginalized woman is surely one with the LOVE which is DIVINITY. May you also hear the will of DIVINITY as it is expressed by messengers who bring glad tidings, good news for the least among us and to the least in us. May you hear good news and like BELOVED Mary give birth to LOVE in the world. Let it be with you according to LOVE’s WORD.

Rejoice favoured ones, for the MOST HIGH GOD, the MYSTERY which IS LOVE, is with you. Fear not beloved ones for you have found favour with DIVINITY. Thanks be to all that is HOLY.

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1 thought on “Annunciations from the Margins

  1. Thank you. I am just beginning to bring Rev. Gafney’s scholarship into the assembly that I guide. Your words and ways of reading Advent out from behind the lectionary tradition.

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