2 Samuel 7:l-5, 8b-12, 14a,16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
During Advent I have been listening to Handel’s Messiah. The solemn words and glorious music express the wonder of the coming into our world of the Lord, the Son of God.
The word-picture of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and her response, as we hear them in the Gospel of Luke, are incredible in their meaning, but very low-key as they are expressed. No trumpets, no chorus, no Hallelujahs.
In the Hebrew Scriptures there were a number of stories of announcements of births to come:
Samson’s, Isaac’s, Samuel’s — these were people who would make a difference in history. This announcement was to a very young girl, perhaps age 14 or so, in an insignificant town in the less cultured and part of Palestine, not known for its religious practice or scholarship. And the girl was betrothed but not married. (Pregnancy outside of marriage could end with stoning to death in that part of the world, even today.) She doubtless knew those other birth stories in Hebrew tradition. But she had questions.
This annunciation is a story most of us have heard since childhood, so familiar that it has lost its shock value. After centuries of suffering and wondering where God was, the people of God were about to experience the presence of the living God among them.
The prophets had talked about this for centuries, but no one knew how the divine-human line would be crossed. It would have been natural to expect a glorious arrival of a splendid figure. If God had stayed for a day or two, shown his glory, and let creatures speak in the Presence, it would have been enough. A few words spoken by the Deity would have been treasured for centuries.
But this God was going to come with all the needs and weaknesses of an infant, to a poor workman and his wife-to-be. He would depend on them to teach him to walk and talk; they would feed him, even teach him his prayers. This would not be a guest appearance among us. The Son of God would know what it was like to be human because he became really human.
Mary didn’t know what she was getting into, just that she was saying yes to the God whom she trusted. Her life was one long life of faith; that Son stayed behind in the Temple in Jerusalem. She saw him leave their home to begin preaching, risking trouble with the authorities. And she stood by and watched him die a miserable death.
She didn’t know those things when she said her yes to the angel, but she was faith-full, and willing to walk when the sunshine faded and she couldn’t see the next step. She was with his followers when her Son returned to the Father, and she has stayed with us, followers of the Lord, even today.
Visiting the stable in a church, or arranging the figures under a Christmas tree, is a wonder-filled experience which I hope children still have. If the sights in the stable are less glorious than Handel’s music, we can grow toward the kind of faith Mary had, and realize that the coming of our God into our lives goes on, is an even more glorious (if quieter) experience.
Ursuline Sister Jeanne Hamilton lives in Wilmington.