annunciationToday we hear the narrative of the annunciation once again, the announcement of the conception of Christ proclaimed to Mary by God’s messenger, Gabriel. Familiar to most Christians, it is an episode that rests at the heart of Luke’s Gospel and is a timely passage for reflection during the preparatory season of Advent.

We recall the Angel’s words to the young woman, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” But do we think of the paralyzing fear that must have overcome her at the realization of her situation, a fear so strong that the first words of the Angel would be words of comfort? Confused and against all odds, Mary seeks meaning in a time of extreme uncertainty, a time marked by impending shame, abandonment, and perhaps worse.

The Angel’s explanation is not as abstract or irrelevant for us as it may seem at first. The talk about the Holy Spirit’s coming upon Mary or Elizabeth’s own miraculous conception is not something to be relegated to the historical past. Instead, in the face of our own difficult circumstances, those episodes in our own lives that seem impossible and doomed for failure, the Angel’s voice reaches to our own time and place to remind us: “do not be afraid.”

Furthermore, Gabriel’s message to Mary is also a message to each of us, that the Holy Spirit will overshadow us, draws near to us, is present to all of us at all times. If only we had eyes to see, and ear to hear the presence of God always already here.

That nothing will be impossible for God does not mean that everything will be easy for us. The very condition of Mary’s accepting God’s grace, that tremendous offering of God’s very self to us, is to come to terms with the circumstances set before her. Before she knew Joseph would have a chance of heart and stay with her, before she knew whether her family would abandon her or not, Mary’s “yes” becomes that first step and sign of trust in the God who was there for her ancestors and whom she believed would be there for her.

Certainly, nothing is impossible for God, but what about us? How is it that we trust in the God of the impossible? Can we trust in such a God or do we only trust in our own selves, our own sense of whether we can do it on our own or not? As the season of Advent continues, may we recall the many ways we find ourselves in shoes similar to Mary’s, and work on trusting the God of the impossible.

Image: Henry Ossawa Tanner (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

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