It’s that special time again — that time of wonder and joy and miracles. Christmas is coming. It’s nearly here. We know that because there’s seasonal music everywhere, and family celebrations being planned, and holiday parties that demand our attendance, and gifts that must be wrapped.
But we also know it because of another big hint — every media outlet is issuing its top ten of the year songs, movies, TV shows, books, pet names and so on. That listing started me wondering about what would be included if you and I identified our top ten Gospel quotations. If we did, which ones would make it on to your list?
I know that right at the very top of mine would be this marvelous, breathtaking statement: “May it be done to me according to your word,” the words spoken by Mary to the angel Gabriel in today’s Gospel. These words opened the door to the possibility of you and me entering into an entirely new kind of relationship with God. These very words changed history.
One of the things I treasure most about this story of Mary and the angel is that
before Mary is presented with God’s astounding request, Mary is first told: “Do not be
afraid.” Imagine. Why wouldn’t she be afraid, even terrified?
In the Philadelphia Museum of Art, there is an unusual painting by Henry Tanner of this classic Annunciation scene. In it, Mary is not depicted as a totally serene girl kneeling in prayer with a glowing halo above her head as we usually find. Rather, Mary is shown sitting on her disheveled bed with unkempt hair, eyes frozen as if in awe or even terror. The look on her face is that of someone both stunned and utterly confused.
And why wouldn’t she be?
God is asking the unimaginable of this young, uneducated, thoroughly unprepared girl. She is being visited by an angel — and she is being asked to do what? Of course, she was afraid, speechless, astonished, dazed. After all, Mary was being asked to make a decision: Act out of fear or act out of faith; respond with terror or respond with trust.
In a way, we’re all asked by life’s demands to make similar decisions — just not ones so unique and exceptional. All the major sins that you and I commit in life are ultimately grounded in fear. Fear is the number one “hostage-taker” for all of us — the fear that I won’t get enough love, enough affection, enough attention, enough power, enough money, enough of anything we hold dear. Mary’s response is really all about a reversal, a re-write: The “No” of Adam and Eve
becomes a “Yes.” The world is offered a new model, a new blueprint, a new design upon which human lives can be based.
Mary chose trust. She chose to allow the angel’s words — as daunting as they were! — to soothe her anxieties, to calm her immediate fright, to enable her to reach out in confidence.
That’s why Mary is our Mother in faith. That’s why she is her Son’s ultimate disciple. Mary chose trust over fear, belief over doubt, freedom over being held hostage. And the result was the birthing of Jesus, God’s beloved Son.
We are now challenged by Mary’s example to do the same in each of our lives: trust, believe, hope, love. That’s why I would put these words at the very top of my ten Scripture quotes: “May
it be done to me according to your word.”