The Annunciation. So what was announced? The story is related in the Gospel according to St Luke, 1:26-38. The angel Gabriel -- which means "God is my hero" in Hebrew -- announced to a Jewish girl named Miriam, better known in English as Mary, that God would cause her to become pregnant with the promised Messiah, and that she should name him Joshua -- which means in Hebrew "God rescues" -- which name is better known in English as Jesus from the Latin for the Greek for the Hebrew.
Of course, if God is causing the pregnancy, God is not the parent but the father. The complication is, Mary is engaged to a man named Joseph who presumably will be taking care of causing her pregnancies, and, given that engagement was pretty much marriage in their culture, the time between the promise of marriage and holding the wedding ceremony, Joseph, if she said yes but he did not believe this, would be within his rights under the Law of Moses to have her put to death. Mary knew that. How's that for a problem pregnancy?
So while it's fine to get all into the miracle of a pregnancy cause by divine intervention rather than human intercourse, it might be well to spend a little more time on this -- Mary faced a real hard decision on this pregnancy, like the risk of death, it was not at all convenient for her, but, she trusted God and said yes. Luke also records that yes, in the famous Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55, which has become a central part of the Divine Office about which this blog recently posted, associated with Vespers or evening prayer in the Western church and Matins (which if you mistake the Catholic Church for the catholic church no longer exists) in the Eastern church.
How about that, the Messiah comes from a troubled pregnancy. Maybe we can put that in the context of troubled pregnancies as well as of the Messiah; there is only one Messiah, but we have a lot of troubled pregnancies.
And how about this, notice that the date on which the Annunciation, which would then be the date of Jesus' conception, is celebrated exactly nine months, the period of human gestation, before 25 December, the celebration of Jesus' birth. Which shows, and makes the church calendar a witness, that life begins at conception. In fact, the beginning of Jesus' earthly life on this date was such a big deal that it was New Years' Day, the beginning of the new year, until relatively recently, in Mother England (where it is also known as Lady Day) until 1752 when the Gregorian (as in Pope Gregory the Great) calendar replaced the Julian (as in Julius Caesar) calendar.
Although the Western church calendar does contain provisions for moving it should it fall in Easter, which is possible, the Eastern church moves it under no circumstances whatever, so important is the celebration of the beginning of Jesus' life, and it would be celebrated as well as, for example, Good Friday. How's that for a statement that life begins at conception?
This pro-life statement is not an accident but quite intentional. When Dionysus Exiguus (Dennis the Short) worked the calendar details out, which was meant not to just work the calendar details out but to fix a date for the observance of Easter, he assigned the beginning of the new year to the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March, since, because that is when Jesus' life began, that is when the time of grace began, and the years would be counted as before (anno domini, in the year of Our Lord) or after his conception, not from his birth. They still are, but the world has erased much of the reference, first moving New Years Day, then thinking life begins at birth really, then calling the years, since the Gregorian calendar is in use now throughout the world in lands with a Christian history or not, the Common Era, or Before the Common Era. But when you see that AD still used, remember, it meant originally not just the year of our Lord, but the year of our Lord starting from the date of his conception.
Lady Day has some echoes even in the secular world. It is the first of the four quarter days, marking the quarters of the year, when rent is due and servants are hired, and Lady Day as the first is also when landowners' contracts with farm workers began. 25 March in the old Julian calendar became 6 April in the new Gregorian calendar, and 6 April to this day begins the tax year in the UK.
To be complete, the quarter days align roughly with the solstices and equinoxes, and they are Lady Day, 25 March, Midsummer Day, 24 June, Michaelmas, 29 September, and Christmas, 25 December.
So Happy Lady Day, and especially to those ladies in troubled pregnancies with tough times ahead if you go through with it. God gets it, he chose to come into the world that way. His mother gets it too. So does his church. We're all with you, and welcome you to be with us.
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