The Annunciation by Pennsylvania artist Henry Ossawa Tanner
My calendar door has opened today to reveal the young Mary receiving her message from the Angel Gabriel. Margaret Silf taps into Mary's response to the astounding, life-changing news:-
'What made her able to say 'Yes' to the angel's request? Mary had certainly been brought up in faithful obedience to the Jewish Law, but I find it hard to believe that this alone gave her the trust to hand over her future, her reputation, her body, mind and soul to God as she did.... What seems to have set Mary's soul on fire that morning was surely her own, personal, direct experience of the presence of God, granted to her through the vision of the angel. This was so overwhelming, so joy-filled, such an eternal moment, that she would never again doubt the power and the ever-presence of the God from whom it came. 'Yes!' was the only possible response to such an experience.
I find it strangely consoling, too, to learn that Mary immediately questioned her own experience. Most of us can identify with her questioning. One moment we can feel God's touch upon our life, the next moment we find ourselves saying. 'This can't be true, because it doesn't fit within my familiar parameters!' The angel counters this questioning not with simple black-and-white answers, but with an assurance that God's ways are infinitely larger than our minds and hearts can ever encompass. Our own rules and patterns can never contain God's transforming power. All we can do - all we are asked to do - is to allow that transforming power to be 'earthed' in our own living. 'Nothing is impossible to God!' All our mindsets are just matchbox-size when it comes to holding the immensity and the potential of God.
Yet this power is not threatening. The angel's first word to Mary is 'Rejoice!', rapidly followed by the assurance that there is nothing to fear. In the light of all that is to come, this might sound like unwarranted optimism. Have we really nothing to fear, if we say our own 'Yes!' to God? Perhaps, again, it is a question of the size of our mindset. To our 'matchbox' thinking, there may well be challenges along the way ahead that will give rise to fear. But the angel's promise is that the overwhelming love of God will always be infinitely stronger than the pull of all our fears. We are not promised an easy 'happy ever after'. What we are promised is that the joy we experience when God touches our hearts is the real thing, and nothing else that can happen to us, however difficult or frightening, will ever have more power than that touch. The way of God always leads to new life.'
Silf's ending words caught my breath. She wrote 'what we are promised is that the joy we experience when God touches our hearts is the real thing, and nothing else that can happen to us.... will ever have more power than that touch.' They caught my breath because when I had been looking for a picture to fill in today's advent calendar and chose the one above, I had read similar words on the same page. These words were written by Jim Bramlett:-