Tanner, Tolkien and A New Age
March 25 marks the beginning. Whether you consider it the beginning of the end or the beginning of something new depends a bit on perspective.
The church calendar has both moveable feast days such as Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost as well as feast days that are fixed. One of the fixed feast days is March 25. For many the most recognizable fixed, feast day is Christmas. There is a lot of debate as to why December 25 was fixed as the date of Jesus’ birth. The date has more significance than some historian’s ability to discover what day the event took place, Some say that Christendom sought to hijack Saturnalia, others see Christmas as the reappropriating of Sol Invictus celebrations while others believe newly converted pagans desired to continue with Celtic solstice practices.
In actuality, December 25 was a relatively late addition to the dates recognized by the church. What is known and widely recognized is that the church very early on believed it had calculated the date of Jesus’ death. You can read more about “How December 25 Became Christmas,” but basically Christmas was set as December 25 because they believed that Jesus was conceived on March 25, and March 25 is the fixed feast day of The Annunciation which falls nine months before December 25. And so, March 25 is a beginning.
Here is a painting by African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner of the Annunciation.It is one of my all time favorite paintings. Tanner’s use of light to depict Gabriel envelops you in its warmth. The red which crosses the field of view behind Mary foreshadows what is to come, and the traditional blue in which Mary is depicted wearing, lays on the chair to the right and is something she has yet to take up. There is Mary, hands folded, at her morning prayers with that quizzical expression. You can almost hear her saying, “What sort of greeting is this?”
Speaking of the Annunciation and Mary’s question, Michael Kuehn has written and recorded a wonderful song which tells the story of Mary’s encounter. The song begins with Mary’s question, “What sort of greeting is this?” It continues to include the words of the Magnificat. It is a part of Michael’s EP, Where Are You. It would not be bad to have this song’s tune and lyrics rolling around in your heart today. The song is titled, “Mary.” You may listen via the player below.
So is The Annunciation an ending or a beginning? J.R.R. Tolkien saw it’s significance. Though he doesn’t make a big deal of March 25 in the narrative of the Lord of the Rings, he obviously spent some time considering it’s significance.
And so, under King Elessar the Fourth Age and the New Year was reckoned to begin on March 25 which is the day when the Ring of Power was destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom and the stronghold of Barad-dur fell and Sauron, defeated. A coincidence? Not at all. The Annunciation marks the beginning of the New Creation.
You may read the text of The Annunciation here: Luke 1:26-35. I have written sonnet recounting the moment. In it I am influence by Malcolm Guite’s sonnet of the same moment titled, “The Annunciation” in which he writes, “the Word himself was waiting on her word.” I love that. The announcement of new creation in some measure begins with meekness, a moment of pause as the Trinity waits on her response, “Let it be unto me as thou hast spoken.” Here is my take.
In a no-where’s stillness while at thy prayers
By thy lamp’s light came a presence holy
Who drew thy life into cosmic affairs
Mary, the Nazarene maiden lowly.
Gabriel hails, Lo, the Lord is with thee,
Favored one. Blessed, be ye not afraid,
For at thy word new creation is conceived
In thy womb’s waters the world is remade.
Mary, in this moment ‘neath Nazareth’s sky,
We await thy word when all words come true:
When thy meek willingness undoes the lie
By bearing the Son who makes all things new.
Taking in hand what is giv’n to thee,
As thou hast spoken, let it be unto me.
In these troubling days. Mary later goes to stay with her cousin, Elizabeth who herself is pregnant and bears John the Baptist. In their greeting of one another, Mary breaks out in worship. Let us take up with Mary her Magnificat, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed, For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.”