Today’s Bible reading: Luke 1:26-38
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
More thoughts for meditation
Mary initially paused at this incredible moment because she was confused and afraid. Henry Ossowa Tanner’s Annunciation captures it well. She is portrayed as an adolescent peasant with no halo or regalia, just the look of uncertainty on her face as it’s being lit up by God’s glory. She doesn’t know what to think even though she’s getting the best news ever! She’s not certain she can trust this messenger or what is being asked of her because it probably wasn’t every day that she heard that she was “highly favored.” I’m sure her daily reality was more along the lines of working hard and humbly and rather invisibly in a patriarchal culture that was dominated brutal oppressors. No wonder she did not know what to make of this greeting.
Her pause also makes sense because being favored is a mixed bag. It’s a lovely compliment, but it also asks us to respond to the One who is favoring. It requires something of us. It is elicitive. It asks us to BE favored, which is our true essence! It asks us to accept our real selves in relationship with God. It may be hard to do that if we don’t know or trust God.
For this reason the French abbot and Cistercian Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), wrote the following reaction to Mary’s pause:
“Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word. Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident.. In this matter alone, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary.”
We know that Mary’s YES was the revelation of her true self, through which God provided salvation. But we know that we often wrestle with fear and confusion too. We don’t always know what God is asking of us. We struggle with wholehearted trust, too. Let’s pause with Mary today and consider the greeting.
Suggestions for action
Put your name in the angel’s words and imagine is it said to you right now: “____ you are highly favored, the Lord is with you.” How does that sound? You might have to say it a few times to actually pause like Mary and ponder it. Is it at all believable to you that God has chosen you to bear his life in you, to nurture it and birth it out into the world and raise it up? The favoring is elicitive, and costly. But trusting our belovedness and with-ness with God is the first step to putting fear in its place. Take heart from this poor, young teenager. She was no more equipped to do it than we are. We can never be too presumptuous about our importance to God.
Pray: Lord, let my wondering turn to trust this Advent. Help me to pause at your word. I say yes to your conception in me.