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Ring in a new year on March 25

 

SPECIAL WORSHIPING OPPORTUNITIES

The Feast of the Annunciation offers us a time to begin again

By Scott Szabo | Presbyterians Today

“Edward A Fellowes-Prynne (British, 1854–1921), ‘The Annunciation’ (‘Ecce ancilla Domini’)” by sofi01 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

My 6-year-old son and I are early risers, and we have developed a practice of welcoming the day by sitting together in appreciative silence. This ritual was particularly pleasant during Christmas, as we often found ourselves marveling at our tree. After Epiphany on Jan. 6, though, I mentioned our decorations would soon be put away. Crestfallen, my son murmured, “I don’t want Christmas to end.” Ordinarily, I would have told him that I understood, but seasons move on. Yet, these are not ordinary times. I have seen my children cope with the loss of in-person schooling and play dates with a courage far exceeding their years. So, it was decided to keep our house adorned until Feb. 2, the traditional end of Christmastide with the celebration of Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Presentation. By then my children should have had their fill of Christmas joy. But in the event that they should crave more, I had another trick up my sleeve: the Feast of the Annunciation.

Falling on March 25, nine months before Christmas Day, the Annunciation of the Lord commemorates the archangel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she had been chosen to bear God’s son. The Feast of the Annunciation is, from a chronological standpoint, the first liturgical episode of the Christmas cycle. As such, when the rest of the nativity set is put away, Mary will stay on our mantle, where she will wait to be joined by an angel statuette in late March. On the day itself, we’ll listen to carols with ties to the lectionary readings, including “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:10–14), and “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came” (Luke 1:26–38). Of course, we’ll also be sure to read the story of the annunciation. I imagine we will also enjoy other Christmas delights, such as cookies.

And yes, I recognize that this will be an anomaly amid the penitential spirit of the Lenten fast. From a historical perspective, the Feast of the Annunciation has long been considered an acceptable reprieve to Lenten disciplines. A day of celebration in a season characterized by contrition, though, reminds us that we are beneficiaries of grace.

The Feast of the Annunciation also falls near the spring equinox, a time of year when night and day are equal lengths, with days growing longer as the spring proceeds. This reminds us that the light “coming into the world” (John 1:9) grew in Mary’s womb. Additionally, the division of day and night in early spring highlights the duality of our existence: We are at once sinners and saints. A belief once held among the faithful was that March 25 not only marked Gabriel’s announcement, but the day of Creation and the day of humanity’s fall. It is no surprise then, that in the Middle Ages, March 25 was the start of a new year, not Jan. 1.

As we emerge from a deadly winter of COVID-19, to begin again on March 25 is the great aspiration of this year. I hope our kids will go back to school, that my congregation will worship in person and that I will again be able to while away afternoons in coffee shops. My strong suspicion is that not all of these things will be realized by March 25. But when the time comes, I pray that we all will embrace whatever is in store with the same spirit as Mary, earnestly desiring to be the Lord’s servants and to do the will of God.

Scott Szabo is the pastor of Oxford Presbyterian Church in Oxford, Pennsylvania.


How to Observe the Annunciation of the Lord

  • If your nativity set is still up, add an angel for the annunciation.
  • With a group, take time to discern God’s call. Churches might shape a worship experience around testimonies of answering Christ’s call.
  • Begin something new, remembering March 25 as a day of creation and redemption.
  • Pray for single mothers, people who are expecting and children. Pray also for those who have struggled to conceive.
  • Mark your calendars for March 25, 2035. In 2035, the Feast of the Presentation coincides with Easter, a rare event known in the Eastern Church as Kyriopascha or the Lord’s Easter.

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