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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon

22nd December 2002

Fr David Shepherd

Advent 4

Many of you have an interest in art, so no doubt you will have thought about the links between art and faith. Here at St. Matthew's we have Bob Harvey, our own resident artist, and of course our Bishop is something of an expert in Art History. In this we are unusual because the English are not renowned for their appreciation of art and the link between faith and art was severed at the Reformation.

A few weeks ago Veronica & I went to a study day on art at the Abbey led by Rev Tom Devonshire Jones. In the morning he told us about Dean Hussey. A feature of his ministry at St. Matthew's Northampton and at Chichester Cathedral was his encouragement and patronage of artists like Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland. In the afternoon he explored images of the annunciation, the Gospel story for today. I thought I would share some of his insights.

  1. Mary's place. For a painter seeking to portray the Gospel story, the physicality, the particularity of the setting is of great importance. Mary's room, her house, the village and the surrounding countryside are all significant. They become signs of the truth Luke the Gospel writer is trying to convey. (Luke of course is remembered as an artist himself.) The details of the angelic visit are all recorded. 'Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the House of David. The virgin's name was Mary'. Elsewhere Luke gives us more details of time and place, of political reality to set the scene.
    So in our prayer and meditation during these last few days of Advent we can spend time reflecting on the places where we have encountered God and upon our place now. In the physicality and particularity of our lives God is incarnate.
  2. Space travel. The second insight concerns the space through which the message of the annunciation travels. In many a great master piece great care is taken in the arrangement of Angel, Virgin and architecture, whether painted or actual. The point being conveyed is that the message comes through our public place. Gabriel and Mary were often depicted on either side of an arch, be it the chancel arch embracing the place of worship or a bridge in the place of political, economic & military power, the city. The annunciation of the incarnation comes through the world as it actually is. It comes to Mary and it comes to us. Only after the Reformation was the liturgical banished from the public place. It was compartmentalised as the religious aspect of life. Today it is increasingly privatised, seen as belonging to those who like that sought of thing.
    In our reflection we will wish to sense how the message of annunciation travels to us through the public space of our lives. How does it engage with the life of our great institutions, with government and commerce, with questions of war and peace? What might it mean to be pregnant with the word of God, in our work place, at school, in old age and retirement?
  3. 'Let it be with me according to your word'. Like Mary we may well find ourselves 'perplexed'. There is the seeming impossibility of any divine message. Such a message can only be discerned by faith and when we hear it the consequences will disturb us. Life will never be the same again, as barrenness gives way to fecundity. Mary was filled with fear and fully aware of the consequences for herself. Yet she was given the grace to respond affirmatively, with a 'yes'. 'Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.'
    We will wish to pray for the grace to say yes to God, to be receptive. We can seek Our Lady's help.
    Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

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Last updated 22/12/2002 12:00:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd