Seeing the Signs

As the chaos of Black Friday and Cyber Monday comes to an end and Christians around the world prepare to enter the season of Advent, I am reminded of a day nearly nine months ago when Catholics observed the Solemnity of The Annunciation of the Lord. This feast day commemorates the Virgin Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel who comes to tell her that she has been chosen to carry the Son of God. Much like a sonogram picture that suddenly appears as your friend’s profile picture, the Annunciation is a declaration of what is to come. I also like to think that it celebrates free will, unexplainable belief, and faithful women.

This Advent, before we welcome the manger and the miracles, let us consider the young woman who faced this unsettling pronouncement. Mary’s brave response to the angel becomes the model for our response to God’s messages. These may come through nature or another person. We may receive them through Scripture or song. Very often they come when we think the whole world has gone silent and forgotten about us.

When I put myself into Mary’s story all I can think of is the confusion and frustration she must have felt. She would be disgraced. She would lose her reputation and very likely her only means of financial security, Joseph. She might have this magical, mystical child, but how would she support it? Mary has to have wondered what her family and friends would think.

I hear three key things in the momentary encounter she had with the angel Gabriel: God had noticed Mary, she was going to do something remarkable for God and humankind, and doing this work was going to commence with her acceptance of the task.  I don’t notice much about the logistics or the how.  There doesn’t seem to be a road map provided or a flow chart about how this will unfold. Mary asks one clarifying question, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” A good question given the circumstances. Gabriel gives her a reply wrapped up in yet another mystery.  Her older cousin will have a son even though physically that too would be impossible by human standards. Would I have said yes with that as the sign that the task at hand was worth embracing? Doubtful. One mystery is enough.

But how often do I miss God because I dismiss the other signs?  How often do I walk past the miraculous because it seems unreasonable? Even absurd? I can forget that the mystery I say I believe in is actually made and remade each time I show up…and each time I say yes. Contemplative and author Heather King writes, “…the Annunciation reminds me that with faith, which is to say with love, all things are possible. Because this is the paradox of what happened after Mary said yes: everything turned out wrong–and, then again, everything turned out right.”

(This post is adapted from a personal blog entry published in March 2012.)