“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, favored 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 favor with God.’”
From Luke 1:26-38
I love this story of the Annunciation. It has been the subject of many beautiful artistic renderings through the years. This year it seems to come at just the right time of the Advent season. We are moving from the call to watch and be alert to a posture of faithful awareness. John the Baptist is no longer at the side of the river asking us to turn towards God. Instead, the angel comes to perplex us. Perplexity can be a gift. It causes us to turn to wonder and then hear something again that we thought perhaps was too good to be true. The angel has to tell Mary more than once that she is favored. Her first response to that news is to move into perplexity.
Particularly in times of stress and periods of unknowing, there is a temptation to ignore perplexity and move too quickly to certainty. This can unleash a vicious cycle of disappointment and frankly an ongoing state of fear. But when we allow ourselves the temporary discomfort of perplexity, then God has more room to act and to allay our fears that are so often born out of control needs when trust is what is being called for. Mary provides a powerful model in this story. She received the news of God’s favor and then sits with that. While she is pondering, the angel then is able to remind her that she can set fear aside, because the favor that has been declared is real and trustworthy.
For us, I think it is often taking a step back and being reminded of the foundational things that make up our faith. They may seem overly simplistic, but simple does not mean easy. When we fully enter into a space where we know ourselves to not only be favored, but deeply beloved by God, then we really can begin to live with less fear. It doesn’t mean all our troubles go away, but it can mean we can respond to them differently. Advent is a time for creating space to allow ourselves to wonder. There has been plenty to perplex us in these past months, but there is also great hope on the horizon. So if we continue to yield ourselves to the place of love, I know we will find ourselves more deeply aware of God’s presence with us. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.