In Nazareth, an unimportant village in a remote region of the Roman Empire, the angel Gabriel descended from heaven to ask a young, recently engaged girl to become pregnant with God’s son Jesus and usher in salvation for the world. But Mary was given a choice, she could have said no. She could have allowed her fears to overcome.
The ancient world could be vicious towards women and especially women who became pregnant out of wedlock. Mary’s imagination must have been running wild with possibilities. Joseph would leave her, she would never marry, she would struggle to find shelter and food, she would be shunned by friends and family. She would bear the stigma of shame and scandal for the rest of her life.
God had great plans for Mary, but would not force her to accept them. Like us, and like all people, God gave Mary freedom of choice. And yet God also gives comfort and reassurance to those who say yes to Him. He wouldn’t just ask great things of us and abandon us. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God,” the angel Gabriel says to calm the terrified girl. “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Having the courage of faith to trust her life with God, Mary surrenders: “Let it be with me according to your word.” And so Mary, letting God into her to bring birth to his Son, becomes the first disciple.
In the poem “Annunciation,” the Roman Catholic poet Denise Levertov meditates on the courage and model faith Mary shows as she assents to God’s will for her life. The poem asks us to to consider where God has introduced a journey before us, a plan for our lives and God’s redeeming story for the world, and challenges us to not turn away, in a moment of weakness or despair, from taking the “roads of light and storm”—the often difficult paths of the life of faith.
‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –
but who was God.
This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Tuesday 2 July 2013.