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)

It’s called a theophany, an appearance of God story. One of the most difficult things for me about them is that they tend to come off like slick, smooth, expected transactions. No big deal. And, of course, nothing could be farther from the truth! I think the best way we can begin to understand this is to experience the appearance from the perspective of the one who is surprised by God. Take Mary, for instance.

She is filled with fear, more than anything! Betrothed, engaged, with her life’s dreams seeming to be lined up, the angel Gabriel comes and speaks to her, and she is perplexed, Mary is afraid. She finds out she has favor with God (check in the good column!), and that she will conceive and bear a son (check in the bad column, the impossible column for a virgin). Just think about the questions racing through Mary’s head…”how am I going to tell Joseph? and what about the law (a pregnancy like this was a death sentence)…and what about all our plans for the wedding, and the reception, and the little house with the stone fence, and my life together with Joseph?” It seemed that her dreams would go unfulfilled….Mary was afraid, and with good reason, and Gabriel knew it…he said, “Do not be afraid, Mary…” The reason he said was that this was a God thing. But Mary is afraid, and she is also confused. She wonders, “how this can be since I am a virgin?” The response is that nothing will be impossible for God. In other words, she is being asked to trust that God is going to do some impossible thing. She knows that no one will believe the impossible.Imminent for Mary, should all this really take place, is first the loss of her marriage, and then the loss of her life, a stoning at the edge of town.

Taking some time to reflect on these things, it might cause us to miss a breath to hear Mary say, as she holds onto all these real fears, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” That is a word of faith, of trust, of yielding, that is not devoid of all the fear Mary still faces. This is not a response that is spoken by Mary like a child would read it in a Christmas play, the kind that is expected, that you know is coming, and that is cute. No, this has to be must be terrifying for Mary, terrifying.

Mary runs off with haste to her aunt Elizabeth’s house (I wonder what kind of haste that was?)…and her life is changed forever. She will give birth to the Son of God, she will witness his crucifixion, and bear witness on the first Easter to the God of the impossible.

It’s ok to be afraid. It’s a human essential, I think, especially when God shows up with a word. And we need not let go of all that we don’t understand, or that causes us fear, to say yes to God. Just faith to trust in the One who always has something wonderful in mind.

Peter Hawkinson

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