The Annunciation. Henry Ossawa Tanner
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 the gospel passage of the Annunciation. 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.”
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