For many Christian communities, the Annunciation - or the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary - is a cause for celebration. Mary is told that she will miraculously bear the Christ child; she has been favored and blessed above all others. But I aways pause in the story when the angel attempts to reassure Mary with the words "do not be afraid," or as other translations render it: "fear not."
What if we take seriously the idea that Mary was, in fact, afraid...that the angel's words are not simply ones of mere reassurance but acknowledgement that anyone in this circumstance would be in fear. Afraid of the unknown angel who appears to her without warning; afraid that she would be ostracized and shunned for being pregnant and unmarried; afraid of the very process whereby she would be "overshadowed" and impregnated. Mary is not presented with a choice of bearing the Christ child; a decision has already been made on her behalf. Can we imagine the fear of a young girl, born and reared in the country, greeted by an unknown figure who tells her that she will be the God-bearer?
Before we rush to the celebration of the annunciation, I am reminded of all those who are afraid by the news that greets them; I want to remember all those who live in fear of life circumstances that may not be of their choice. My thoughts this Advent season are with the 22,000 homeless children in New York, afraid that the shelters will be full and there will be no place for them to sleep. My thoughts are with the parents whose minimum wage paying jobs can barely cover the bills, afraid that they won't be able to provide food this winter, let alone toys. My thoughts are with the victims of domestic violence, afraid that the drinking of this festive season will lead to more abuse.
Perhaps God has chosen, even in this story of blessing and favor, to remember those who daily walk with fear: fear of the unknown road; fear of what the future holds; fear of failure; fear of insufficiency for the tasks that lie ahead; fear that basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter can be met. Yes, Mary was blessed and highly favored. Yes, Mary received an honor above all young women. But Mary, fully human, would have known fear, doubt, uncertainty and confusion. She knew and experienced fear at the blessed event of the Annunciation, just as she would know and experience fear at the Crucifixion.
Our blessed assurance during this Advent season is not that we won't ever be afraid...our blessed assurance is that even in moments of fear, doubt, and uncertainty, we can be bold enough to ask God, "how can this be?"
© Yolanda Pierce