The story of the annunciation that we tell on this last Sunday in Advent contains an outline within it of Mary’s reaction to the angel’s news, and the stages she went through. It’s like a miniature roadmap for the stages we go through when unexpected things happen.
- The angel comes and speaks to her. It’s out of the blue, totally unexpected. This greeting: “Hello Mary, you favoured one. God is with you!”
- Mary’s first reaction is worry: she’s “much perplexed” and wonders, “What sort of greeting is this? Is this going to be good or bad? What’s going to happen? What’s going on?” The story says she ponders. That’s important, and we’ll come back to it.
- But the angel reassures her: “Don’t be afraid. God is especially fond of you. You will have a child called Jesus, and he will be great, with an everlasting kingdom.” The reassurance is nice, but the additional details? Yikes!
- Mary quite understandably asks how on earth this can happen. She’s not even married. It’s a very practical question.
- And the angel explains that it’ll be through the power of the Holy Spirit. Code for “God’s in charge. Don’t sweat the details.”
- And Mary accepts it, not blindly but trustingly. “OK, here I am. Let it be.” She’s gone in less than 10 verses from worry to pondering to questioning to acceptance and trust.
This journey contains the roadmap for us that we need when things happen that are totally unexpected and beyond our control.
- The angel’s starting point with Mary is the same message God has for us: “I love you; you’re my favoured one. I’m especially fond of you.” Are we perfect? No. Do we have to earn God’s love? Never. Love is always the starting point from God’s side.
- But when things happen in our lives, especially when bad things happen, we wonder, we worry. We don’t know what it means. And so Mary “pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” We’re often quick to label things good or bad, and react accordingly. But what if we could pause to ponder, to wonder, to leave a contemplative gap between action and reaction? When things are going haywire, what if we could sit still for a while and pray for openness?
- Mary receives the angel’s reassurance, and the promise that she will bear the Christ child into the world. When she asks how this can be, she’s reminded that this is the Holy Spirit’s work, not hers. Only then can she say a trusting Yes to this. “Let it be.” We too need that reassurance, and the reminder that in all things the Holy Spirit is at work. We may not know how but, with a trusting openness to what God is doing, we too can bring the light of Christ into the world.
A priest friend and colleague of mine is going through a very painful time in her life just now. She led a Blue Christmas service that I attended in her church, and she was close to tears as she read the opening words about light coming into the darkness. But there was a stillness about her, an inner calm in the midst of her pain, and a knowledge that she is loved by God, and the Holy Spirit is at work. She was able to bring comfort and light to those who came to the service. She was on Mary’s path. May we find it and follow it too.