Sunday, May 23, 2010
The Annunication, though Joyful, also asked Mary to risk a terrible death or become the object of ridicule and abuse as an Adulteress!
The young girl had gone outside - the only place for real 'privacy' since the one room house she lived in was very small and her parents were now sleeping. It had been a long but uneventful day. She was tired, wanted to go to sleep, but had few opportunities during the day to be alone . . . with God. This late night vigil was not the first for her. Though only about 14, she had for years sought God in the quiet stillness of the night. It was her favorite part of the day even though she struggled against fatigue - fought the desire (need) to sleep. She refused to give up this sweet time with God. This night her life was to change for ever! The angel Gabriel appeared and told her some wonderful (but personally frightening!) news: Mary would become pregnant with the very Son of God!
Mary seems to have had it all - at least from a spiritual perspective. After all, she grew up under the loving guidance of two great people, her parents (saints no less!) She grew up with the knowledge of God - the greatest gift parents can give their child. She was devout, faithful, and fervent in prayer and experienced the presence of God in her life. Adding to all of these blessings were those that came with the Arch-Angel Gabriel, the great things God was going to do for her: making her the Mother of His heavenly Son, Jesus the Christ. She would be given the opportunity to provide loving support to God's own Son (her son!), teach Him about God and guide Him, preparing Him for the work of salvation that would save all of humanity. What greater honor and glory could anyone hope for or imagine!
However, this gift of the Son of God was one that would, in the here and now, have serious life-threatening consequences for Mary. We hardly think about those things though they are what give Mary the glory that she deserves. Mary must have given deep thought to what was being asked of her. She was engaged to be married but the wedding date was some months away. Her pregnancy wouldn't show right away, but, after a few months, it would be obvious to everyone that . . . she was pregnant.
What would she say, especially to Joseph who she saw on a daily basis since they lived in the same small village? He longed to be with her, noticed everything about her and would note her mood and appearance to her whenever he saw her each day. He would notice that she was getting larger around the waist. and given that everyone was poor (didn't generally have enough food) it would become clear that it wasn't from over eating! When confronted by him what could she say? If she told the truth he would think she was mad or lying. Who got impregnated by God?! And, if God wanted to do this thing, why would he choose a poor simple peasant girl in this village of Nazareth? Joseph would reasonably conclude that what Mary was saying was preposterous, impossible. What would Joseph do? He was a good trusting man but, being down to earth, like most people would conclude that this pregnancy (like most!) was due to her having sex with a man and of course he would know that he was not that man. He would be extremely hurt, disappointed and possibly very angry.
Mary would have to conclude that Joseph, after deciding that Mary had had an affair, would have very few options - none of them very good. He could go ahead with the marriage, take her into his home, and raise the child as his own. No one else would know this terrible secret but it could gnaw at him for the rest of his life. In addition, the child would be a living reminder both of Mary's supposed infidelity and of the man who had had sex with her. The child would be a living image of that man who had shattered Joseph's hopes and dreams - stole his bride. This man was probably someone he knew - someone who also lived in the small village - and he would always wonder which friend, neighbor or relative was 'the one'. He would have to live with the knowledge that this someone, for the rest of his life, would laugh at him behind his back - would have a secret claim on both Mary and her child.
Joseph could also publicly denounce his bride to be. He could curse Mary as he proclaimed to everyone that she had wronged him, shaming herself and her parents through her act of infidelity. He would announce that she had violated both the law of God and her own sacred marriage agreement with him by giving in to sexual temptation. By renouncing Mary he would wash his hands of her and surrender her to the justice of the law of Moses. That law made it clear that Mary . . . must be stoned to death. Joseph would, of course, have the right to throw the first stone but even if he didn't the villagers would take care of her punishment. Even if the community decided to not stone her - if Joseph was generous enough to try to persuade them to not take that course of action - she would be hated, despised, mocked and shunned for the rest of her life - as would her child. She would, in effect, be an outcast of the village and, worse than that, be the object of scorn and verbal attacks, slaps and kicks, each day - as would her child.
Mary had to think about most of this after Gabriel announced what would happen to her - what God would do. It is clear that Mary knew she had a choice because her response to the angel was "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me according to your word." (These words remind us of Jesus' own words in the Garden!). Simple words, humbly said - but obviously very serious! Mary knew that this was God's will, God's work. She knew her life was not her own anyway. Her life was a gift from God and He had ultimate right over her, over her life. She also knew that God was good and was doing only good in the world - often in the most mysterious way. Finally, she knew that God was all powerful and all wise. He would make it all right - turn it into something wonderful. This was the God she knew, believed in, so she could confidently move forward with Him.
The story of the Nativity is beautiful, however, when we look more closely, we can see how hard it was - not an easy thing for any of those involved. God, Lord of all, was in charge. Our lives, with God, can also be hard. We must encourage ourselves with the story of the Virgin Mary and Joseph, remind ourselves that in fulfilling God's will, by comparison we have it easy. And when it does get hard not forget that others, in their journey of faith, proved they could endure with God's help. We also, with God's help, can do all that God wants. We see how Mary was blessed for her faithfulness. We will also be blessed by submitting to the will of God in our lives. God bless you all!