We’re in the Advent season and soon we’ll be celebrating the event that changed the world forever – the birth of Christ. In my last post we got into the Christmas spirit by imagining what it would be like to have an advent of our own… A momentous arrival of a whole new level of trust and confidence in God’s love that opens up new possibilities for our lives.
We started by looking at the story of the first Christmas, a story of trust… God entrusting the fate of the world to a young couple and their response of trust and obedience in return. We looked at the story from Joseph’s viewpoint. Now we’ll look at Mary’s story and what it took for her to trust God in her own crazy, wonderful way.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you.”
Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38)
Traditionally Mary is pictured cool and calmly receiving Gabriel’s announcement that she would become pregnant and become the mother of Jesus, the Messiah. But I can hardly picture that. Luke tells us she was greatly troubled by this news. And as the angel spoke of her unmatched role in God’s plan to deliver the world from all that has distorted and infected it and re-establish his kingdom ‘on earth as in heaven’, the only thing she could think of to say was, “But I’m a virgin!”
Out of wedlock births have become commonplace today. To many, Mary’s predicament doesn’t seem like all that big of a deal. But in a close-knit Jewish community back in the first century, this was shocking. The law considered this on par with adultery, subject to death by stoning!
We already saw how Joseph mercifully agreed to divorce Mary in private rather than press charges, that is, until an angel showed up and changed his mind. Even though this was all God’s doing, Mary’s quiet life was suddenly turned into a public scandal. Which is probably one of the reasons she hurried off to the one person who could possibly understand what she was going through – her cousin Elizabeth who was going through a crazy pregnancy situation of her own. She too miraculously got pregnant in her old age after a similar visit by an angel.
Elizabeth believes and shares Mary’s joy but their experiences were different. In Elizabeth’s case the news of her miracle sets off a community celebration. While Mary has to face her shame alone. She was left to suffer nine months of awkward explanations and gossip.
But what was Mary’s response to this disruption in her life? She listened to the angel. Considered the complications and the consequences and answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” I don’t think she really had a clue what this would mean but she trusted God’s goodness anyway. The angel’s words to Mary were short in details. He said nothing about how, when, or where all this would come about. But in spite of Mary’s lack of clarity and all her confusion, she was open to all possibilities.
She could trust what was going to happen simply because she trusted God. This kind of crazy trust is rare and radical. She was trusting that whatever was to happen to her was more than she could do by herself and far beyond what she could possibly imagine…
“I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let everything you have said about me come true.”
And with these words of crazy Christmas trust, Mary gave up control of her future, letting God define it for her. Trusting God to mold her life in whatever way he wished, just like her fiancé, Joseph. All she could do was wait patiently, trust and nurture the baby growing inside her.
This Christmas we can experience an advent of our own. The momentous arrival of an ability to wait patiently and trust God’s love and power with those things in our lives that seem impossible to accomplish, fix, overcome or undertake on our own.
Thomas Merton said that life is a ‘perpetual Advent’. He said that trust begins to grow as we wait patiently. And that trust nurtures God’s love in us, like the child in Mary’s womb which gives birth to new possibilities that we never expected or imagined.
He opened his prayer with…
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.”
Merton trusted that though he didn’t have all the answers, God would not leave him to face his journey alone. For him this was the meaning ofexperiencing crazy Christmas trust. This is what it meant for Mary, and this is what it can mean for us as well.
Pray along with me…
Jesus grant us the ability to wait in crazy Christmas trust and allow your love to grow in us, giving birth to new possibilities and hope for our lives and our world in this year ahead…