breaking & entering

Mar 25, 2021

Picture above: Annunciation. Henry Ossawa Tanner

It’s the feast of the Annunciation today – the turning point of all human history. Take a few moments to relax as you are driving to work or sitting in a dull lecture to listen to this 8-minute reflection.

Podcast Transcript:

That might seem a strange title for a reflection for the feast of the Annunciation, breaking and entering, but I think it’s apt. Here’s why.

A couple of thousand years ago, a young Jewish woman was going about her normal morning routines, perhaps with a mixture of house and garden work, chatting with parents and neighbours, aware of the local drought, the sickness of a neighbour and annoyed by the neighbourhood’s lack of sleep caused by the Romans’ noisy party the night before, when God broke into her routine and entered her life in a new and powerful way.

Mary heard the greeting: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

I’m happy that Mary’s immediate response was to be troubled. If an angel broke in on my morning routine I would be a bit shaken too. In that moment Mary would not really have understood what was happening: is that a knock at the door, a burglar at the window or a drunk Roman on his way home from the party?

That’s why the messenger reacted immediately with “Do not be afraid Mary,” and Mary would have immediately realised that she had no reason to fear because she had already found favour with God and was already living with a desire to know what God was wanting of her and for her.

So if you sense God might be trying to break into your life today, hear this message: Do not be afraid.  Note this is also the message directly from Jesus to Mary Magdalen the morning of the resurrection.

It is important to note that Mary did not need to discern whether or not she would do the will of God once she knew what it was. However she did need to stutter a question or two in order to decide if it really was God who was speaking to her. Once she understood that it was God who was asking, then there was only one response and that was ‘Yes. Let it be done to me.’

There is a great novel: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Even without the context of the book this single quotation makes complete sense and is a bit of a wake-up call:

“Faced with the Divine, people took refuge in the banal, as though answering a cosmic multiple-choice question: If you saw a burning bush, would you (a) call 911, (b) get the hot dogs, or (c) recognise God? A vanishingly small number of people would recognise God…” 

Because Mary already sought to live with openness to God’s call to her, she was able, at least after the original shock of finding an angel in her kitchen, to recognise God.

But as Russell suggests we struggle to recognise God.

Perhaps because we like to keep God under our control we might prefer a society that is secular and post-Christian where it’s easy to ignore the presence of God. We are as slow to name God as God as we are to name good as good. We are as hesitant to name the devil the devil as we are to name evil as evil. The consequence is that everything becomes whatever we want it to be, depending on the context. What is in fact objectively good might commonly be considered to be bad, and what is in reality an evil can be named helpful depending on the rudder-less subjective views of the majority.

You might have noticed that there is only a one letter difference between the name God and the word good, and the name devil and the word evil. But there is a world of difference between good and evil and an eternal chasm between God and the Devil.

It is not enough to satisfy ourselves with lists of what is good and what is evil. This might be understandable and acceptable in one who like the foreigner arriving in a new city consults the road map for every direction at every turn. But if after a few months we are still totally dependant on the map, our journeys will be exhausting and we will miss the beauty of the conversation and company in the car and the glory of the scenery that surrounds us.

With her encounter with the angel, Mary’s life became an adult adventure of mature faith.

To conclude this reflection let’s skip to the end of this gospel passage. The angel tells Mary that her elderly cousin Elizabeth is also expecting a child. Then there is the wonderful punch-line for the passage: “for Nothing is impossible for God.”

An Invitation:

  • Take a few moments to ask Jesus directly how he is trying to break into your life today. Don’t think too hard about this – you will pretty quickly get a sense of his answer and his response may surprise you.
  • Take as your mantra for the day “Nothing is impossible for God.” Whenever you think of a situation that is difficult, a person who is struggling, or when your own anxiety threatens to overpower you, simply repeat several times slowly and gently: “Nothing is impossible for God.”

8 Comments

  1. Life, or death, and miracles – we witness all three. God is in charge here, and there is purpose in all that He does, although we can lack understanding.
    When God calls, it is for the best, and we can take comfort that God always offers something better.
    So when a miracle does not happen; Heaven, was God’s Loving choice. That is the Supreme outcome that we can be happy with.

    Reply
    • Thank you for this reminder as to why our prayers are not always answered in the way we imagine is best … God knows best what is good for all His people … “Let it be done according to His will … ” may be hard for us to accept. God give us Faith in your ways and calm our fears with the knowledge that you are Love and that you Love us all.

      Reply
  2. This is known as the problem of natural evil. How could an omnipotent (all-powerful) omnibenevolent (all-good) God allow bad things to happen in nature (including bodies with cancer)? Well, what would the world be like if there were no natural processes such as hurricanes, tsunami, earthquakes at the macro-scale; natural predators and physical accidents at the meso-scale; and and if there no natural processes at the micro-scale including cell division, viruses, etc.? The universe simply wouldn’t move. Earthquakes happen because the planet has particular structure of mantle and core. Hurricanes happen because of the earth’s rotation and variability in solar energy, which happens because the earth orbits the sun, which gives us day and night. Cancer simply exists because of cell division, which happens to both keep us alive and also to eventually stop working so well. A world without hurricanes and cancer (for example) is therefore one where there is no night and day, and no animal growth from infancy to an adulthood. No life as we know it at all. God is not bound by these constraints (since He made them), and I sincerely believe that miracles can and do occur. But despite natural death, natural destruction and natural disease we see that we still have a Good existence. Who are we to say that the universe would be better if something was different? Perhaps we do indeed live in the most perfect existence that is possible? Perhaps when God does not (from our earthly perspective) do anything, then that is actually the best option? Isn’t that the definition of God—a being incapable of doing evil?

    I appreciate that this isn’t exactly a response to your particular situation. I myself have struggled with my wife being diagnosed with cancer, at a young age. However it helps to remind myself that God is all-loving, and that His will is good. His horizon is further than mine.

    Reply
  3. Perhaps God did help in ways that were needed, not ways that were prayed for. Perhaps observing your belief in prayer turned someone else’s heart to God. Perhaps your person was grateful it was them that was dying not someone they loved whose faith was less sure. Perhaps God taking them home was what they needed even though not what you wanted. Nothing is impossible for God. He can do anything he wants.

    Reply
  4. Thank you Father John for the encouraging reminder, to be repeated often! “Nothing is impossible for God.” I have written a note withe these words and placed on my kitchen window-sill.”
    God Bless you and your encouragement to myself and others.

    Reply
  5. Love the artwork today, do pleased to see it again

    Reply
  6. Love the podcast option for these reflections, thank you !

    Reply
  7. Thanks so much for the podcasts as well as the written version I seem to get so much more out of them

    Reply

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