Scripture Passage for Reflection: Luke 1: 26-35
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’* But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him 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 ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’* The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God.
So, what does it mean to ponder? If you read this Scripture, it does not mean thinking something through until you understand it or until you “get it”. Nowhere does it say that Mary was ever completely sure about what was going to happen. Nowhere does it say that she ever stopped asking questions, that she ever stopped pondering what this would mean for her life. Nowhere does it say that she expected this turn of events. When you think about it, Mary was probably just like the rest of us. She probably pretty well had her life figured out. She was just trying to live it. And then this angel shows up. “Excuse me Mary, I know that this might be a little out of the box for you but I need you to stop everything that you’re doing and listen. God has something special just for you. See, if it’s not too much trouble, we’d like you to birth the Savior, the Son of God and the Son of Humanity, Emmanual, the Messiah, the very Godself into being. And, we’d really like to get this show on the road now.”
What if Mary had said no? What if her fear or her plans had gotten the best of her? What if she was just too busy planning for whatever was going to happen next in her life? What if she really didn’t have time to do any pondering today? Now, as much as we’d like to think that we have the whole story of God neatly constructed between the covers of our Bible or on that nifty little Bible app that you have on your iPhone, you and I both know that there is lots of God’s work that is missing. We really just sort of get the highlights. Who knows? Maybe Mary wasn’t the first that God asked to do this. Maybe she was the second, or the tenth, or the 386th. After all, this is a pretty big deal. I mean, this pretty much shoots that long-term life plan out of the water. But, you see, this story is not about Mary; it’s about God. And through her willingness to ponder, her willingness to let go of the life that she had planned, her willingness to open herself to God’s entrance into her life and, indeed, into her womb, this young, dark-haired, dark-skinned girl from the wrong side of the tracks in a sleepy little suburb of Jerusalem called Bethlehem, was suddenly thrust into God’s redemption of the world. It is in this moment that all those years of envisioning what would be, all those visions that we’ve talked about, it is here, in this moment, that they begin to be.
Annunciation literally means “the announcement”. The word by itself probably holds no real mystery. But it is the beginning of the central tenet of our entire Christian faith—The Annunciation, Incarnation, Transfiguration, Resurrection. For us, it begins the mystery of Christ Jesus. For us, the fog lifts and there before us is the bridge between the human and the Divine. Now we Protestants really don’t tend to give it much credence. We sort of speed through this passage we read as some sort of precursor to “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus…” so we can light our Christmas candle. This, for us, is the typical beginning of the birth story. But think back. Something happened nine months before. This human Jesus, like all of us, had to be grown and nurtured in the womb before the miracles and the ministry started. The Feast of the Annunciation is the turning point of human history. It is in this moment, this very moment, that God steps through the fog into humanity and, just like every human that came before, must wait to be fully birthed into this world.
What about us? When do you let yourself ponder? When do you expect to encounter the unexpected? What is your answer when the angel or some other God-sent character comes bursting into your life: “Excuse me [You], I know that this might be a little out of the box for you but I need you to stop everything that you’re doing and listen. God has something special just for you. See, if it’s not too much trouble, we’d like you to birth the Savior, the Son of God and the Son of Humanity, Emmanual, the Messiah, the very Godself into being. And, we’d really like to get this show on the road now.” Again, what if Mary had said no? So, why are we so different from that scared little girl. So, maybe it’s time for us to get busy pondering!
Mary pondered these things in her heart, and countless generations have pondered them with her. Mary’s head is bowed, and she looks up at the angel through her lashes. There is possibly the faintest trace of a frown on her brow. “How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man?” she asks, and the angel, the whole of Creation, even God himself, all hold their breath as they wait for what she will say next.
“Be it unto me according to thy word,” she says, and jewels blossom like morning glories on the arch above them. Everything has turned to gold. A golden angel. A golden girl. They are caught up together in a stately golden dance. Their faces are grave. From a golden cloud between them and above, the Leader of the dance looks on.
The announcement has been made and heard. The world is with child.
Frederick Buechner, The Faces of Jesus: A Life Story, p. 8-9
Reflection: What is God asking you to do with your life? What part of the story is yours to play, or yours to write, or yours to live? When have you taken time to ponder?
Grace and Peace,