17 December 2012

most highly favored lady

The Annunciation by J.W. Waterhouse
Christmas has a special poignancy for me this year, because it is the first year that I've truly been able to identify with Mary.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
Now, I'm quite enjoying my pregnancy, excepting the dozen weeks of nausea back in the fall (even then I could keep it at bay with grapes and Coca-Cola). It has been an emotionally positive experience. Everyone around me is rejoicing over this child. I've been congratulated and hugged; I do feel like a "favored one!" Yes, I have freaked out over childbirth, and yes, I have gotten teary for no reason at all, but so has every pregnant woman in the history of the world. I've endured no fears or trials besides those I already expected, and even in the ones that have come, have been blessed with tremendous support from the people I love.

As Advent marches on, I think often of Mary and how she may have felt at this point in her pregnancy. Did she pause in her work to put a hand on her belly and feel that little baby kick? Did she lie awake at night wondering what kind of mother she would be? Did she and Joseph ever laugh together--a little scared, but for all that, in deep awe-- at the strange miracle at work within her? I'm sure they did.

However, the joys that must have come with her pregnancy, Mary also faced trials unlike anything I will ever know.
But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”
That all sounds great, Gabriel, but let's get down to brass tacks. Just think of the mental stress Mary bore as she carried Jesus in her womb. How did she explain her swelling stomach to her mother? Her friends? I wonder if her parents believed the fantastic tale of divine blessing, or if they turned away from her daughter in shame. Though I giggle and snap a picture whenever I notice my belly pushing out farther in front of me, Mary probably wished she could hide it away. Few, if any, of her neighbors would have rejoiced at this new life. Wouldn't it have been hard for her to hear the whispers in the marketplace, to see the knowing looks cast in her and Joseph's direction? Wouldn't she have wondered at times if that angelic vision was real, if she truly had found favor with God? I'm sure she did. There must have been days when she questioned His goodness and wished that He would take this burden away from her. (No wonder that before long, she "arose and went with haste into the hill country" in order to stay with her cousin Elizabeth.)
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
I think Mary foresaw all these things at the moment of the annunciation. And she still said yes.

(All Scripture taken from Luke 1:26-38)

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