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From the Archive: Chosen by God from the Foundation of the Earth – Br. James Koester

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For the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin, we’re pleased to post anew this sermon, which Br. James Koester originally preached for the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on Dec. 8, 2009.  In it, Br. James celebrates Mary’s “yes” to God and invites us to look “not outwardly, or even upwardly, but inwardly,” to see how we too have been chosen, from the foundation of the Earth, to bear fruit.

Those of you who have joined us at one point or another for one of our meals will know that most of the time, on most days, we listen to the reading of a book during the meal. It’s only on Sundays, Tuesdays and some feast days that we share in conversation over the meal. Right now we are reading quite an interesting, and highly amusing biography of Benjamin Franklin, entitled Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. It turns out, as we have discovered, that Franklin was quite an interesting, and highly amusing character. Earlier in the fall our book of choice was a little more esoteric as we read Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary by Miri Rubin. Mother of God was a heavier read, and as we joked at the time, we now knew more about Mary than she knew about herself! One of the underlying themes of the book was that before she became known as the Mother of God, before she became known as the Queen of Heaven she was simply Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus. In essence underlying all the titles and the various devotions that is who she was, and that is who she remains.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that young girl of Nazareth. It is feast not spoken of in scripture but one deeply rooted in the tradition of the Church from ancient times and one which says as much about us, and our life in God as it does about Mary herself and her life in God. So while the focus today is on Mary, we see in her the source and ground of our own life of faith. In looking at Mary we gaze not outwardly, or even upwardly, but inwardly to our own adoption as children of God[1] because it is there that we find Mary’s true vocation, and ours as well, to be the adopted daughters and sons of God.

This feast reminds us that while Mary was chosen for the particular purpose of becoming the mother of God’s son, so too has God chosen “us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before [God] in love.”[2] The choice of Mary was not random, or happenstance. It was particular and eternal. She was chosen and appointed by God “while yet in her mother’s womb to be the Mother of our Lord”[3] In the same way, we too have been chosen by Christ for Jesus in the Gospel of John reminds us that:

[y]ou did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you

to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last ….[4]

Like Mary we too have been chosen by God from the foundation of the world to go and bear fruit, fruit that would last for all eternity. Think of it! You have not been chosen randomly, or by happenstance, but particularly and eternally to bear fruit for God.

Mary’s particular vocation from “before the foundation of the world” was to be the mother of Jesus and that vocation continues to unfold with the sound of fluttering wings:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a

town called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named

whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s

name was Mary.[5]

This is no ordinary encounter, but then the message was no ordinary message:

you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you

will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called

the Son of the Most High … [6]

It was a particular and eternal vocation, to be the mother of Jesus, and for a moment eternity stood still while all heaven waited for Mary’s response. We remember Mary’s response to Gabriel throughout the year in various feasts when we remember her life. Here at the monastery we remember that response throughout the day when we pray the Angelus: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it unto me according to your word.”[7] It was that ‘yes’ for which Mary had been created. It was that ‘yes’ for which Mary was made. It was that ‘yes’ for which Mary was appointed and chosen from the foundation of the world. It was that ‘yes’ for which she was prepared while still I her mother’s womb. And it was for that ‘yes’ that all heaven waited for a brief moment in time. For the rest of her life, and indeed for the rest of time, the echoes of that ‘yes’ reverberate as the air vibrated that day in Nazareth to the movement of Gabriel’s wings. It was no easy thing to live with that ‘yes’, but once given it was not taken back. It, like God’s own choice of Mary, was for all eternity.

If the story of that ‘yes’ is Mary’s story, and the story we celebrate tonight, so too is it our story, and so it is our story that we celebrate tonight as well. For like Mary, we too have been chosen by God to bear the Word of God, and to give birth to Word of God in the world. We may not, like Mary, have been asked to give physical birth to God’s son, but as with Mary, we have been asked to bear and carry and give birth to the Word of God. So as with Mary, so with us, eternity stands still while all heaven waits for our answer. What will it be? Will you like Mary say ‘yes’ to God’s choice of you as friend, and disciple and lover?[8] Will you like Mary open the womb of your heart and bear, and carry and give birth to the Incarnate Word of God so that all “might live for the praise of his glory?”[9] Will you like Mary, say “yes”?

We say ‘yes’ to so many things. ‘Yes’ to another piece of dessert. ‘Yes’ to an advertisement or sales pitch. ‘Yes’ to an invitation or a request from a colleague or friend. And sometimes we say ‘yes’ to God. Sometimes we say ‘yes’ to God when we hear the wings of an angel. Sometimes we say ‘yes’ to the very thing that we were made for. Sometimes we say ‘yes’ to the very thing for which we have been destined[10] from all eternity.

When we say ‘yes’ to God, our ‘yes’ echoes that of Mary’s and “the Word [becomes] flesh and [lives] among us”[11] here and now and we, like Mary, become God bearers and our eternal destiny is fulfilled for all time.

Tonight we celebrate, not simply God’s choice of Mary from the foundation of the world to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word, but God’s eternal choice of us to be the bearers of that same Word as well. We celebrate not simply Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, but to us as well, for we too are favoured of the Lord. [12] We celebrate not simply Mary’s eternal ‘yes’ but ours as well.

So tonight as you make a womb of your heart and a manger of your hands in which to receive the Son of the Most High, listen for the sound of angel wings beating upon the wind and join your voice to the echo of Mary’s and with her say ‘yes’ to God who has chosen and appointed you from the foundation of the world to go and bear fruit, fruit that would last.


[1] Ephesians 1:5

[2] Ephesians 1:4

[3] Collect: Conception of the BVM, FAS p. 371

[4] John 15:16

[5] Luke 1:26-27

[6] Luke 1: 31-32

[7] Angelus

[8] John 15:14, 15 “You are my friends if you do what I command you…” “…I have called you friends….”

[9] Ephesians 1:12

[10] Ephesians 1:11 “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,….”

[11] John 1:14

[12] Luke 1:28: “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”

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2 Comments

  1. DLa Rue on June 13, 2011 at 04:31

    There’s a section quite close to your analogy, making each praying human a locus for the incarnational life, in “Walking on Water,” Madeleine L’Engle’s (sometimes rambling) discussion of the place of the arts in the life of faith.

    It starts on p. 18 and continues as a theme throughout the book: “…to paint a picture or to write a story or to compose a song is an incarnational activity. The artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver. In a very real sense the artist (male or female) should be like Mary who, when the angel told her that she was to bear the Messiah, was obedient to the command.

    “…God, through the angel Gabriel, called on Mary to do what, in the world’s eyes, is impossible, and instead of saying, ‘I can’t,’ she replied immediately, ‘Be it unto me according to they Word.'”

    I think a necessary corollary to this is something a friend once observed: that we are all called to be artists with our lives. So that the “Yes” gives birth to the ongoing, unfolding work of grace within us, the creatively shaped, communicative work that lets the love of God be known in all we do and are.

    Thanks for such a lovely thought at the start of the day. Time to put the next few brush strokes in place….

  2. Loukas on August 15, 2010 at 14:13

    Thanks for this entry.
    I also found an interesting article about the Dormition/Assumption providing a broad perspective on the feast’s history and the various ways it is observed. Worth checking out: http://dstp.cba.pl/?p=2399

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