Even without the long shadow of coronavirus, every year the timing of the Feast of the Annunciation feels extremely awkward. That’s because it occurs on March 25, which is always in the heart of Lent. But, when you think about it, the timing of this holy day is extremely poignant. In the midst of Lent, the Annunciation helps us remember that it’s not up to us to make our way back to God; God has to come to us. And in the middle of a pandemic, we remember that God has not left us alone to figure it out; Christ came to be with us through this and every ordeal. So pray today for the courage and faith of Mary, that we will have grace to answer God’s call and be vessels of love in this sick and fearful world.
Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Written by Dana Jean
I have this recurring dream. It doesn’t happen often, actually it’s happened three times, and each time it was exactly the same. I am driving into a parking garage, the kind where the ceiling feels a little too low and the light is a little too dim.
A sign in the garage directs me right which leads down. Round and round I drive, ducking my head irrationally each time I go under a structural beam. I lose count of how many floors deep I am when I notice that the walls have started to close in a bit and it’s getting more and more narrow as I drive. I can feel my stomach tighten as I realize it’s just wide enough for one car and I don’t know what will happen if I meet a car coming up as I’m going down.
I turn a sharp corner and hit my brakes. Right in front of me are the doors to an elevator. I look to my left, over my shoulder; no way out. I put the windows down, starting to feel claustrophobic, and I put the car in reverse, knowing in my heart that the turn is too sharp and the walls too close for me to back out. Panicked, I look to the right and see a friend of mine leaning up against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest, watching me squirm, a smirk on his face.
Each time I’ve had this dream was during a time in my life when I needed to make a really important decision. Each time it was when I was trying to ignore God calling me to something because I was afraid to say yes. Each time I wanted to find an easy way out and couldn’t.
So I don’t understand Mary. When the angel tells her she’s going to bear the Christ child, she just goes with it. I want to ask her, to demand of her, “Don’t you know what God asked of Moses?? Or Esther?? Or Noah?? Or Jonah??” Or any number of people God has called to impossible tasks like leading the Israelites out of Egypt, or saving the Jews from massacre, or convincing the Ninevites to change their sinful ways, or building an arc at 500 years old and watching as God wiped the face of the earth clean.
“It’s impossible what he asks of people,” I want to warn her!
Surely this faithful servant of the Lord knows about the impossible things to which God calls people! But if she does, how can she just go along with it, knowing she’ll have to face a husband who might abandon and leave her in poverty; that she’ll have to wake every two hours to nurse a baby she won’t get to keep forever; that she’ll have to face unimaginable pain as she watches that son die on a cross? Of course, she doesn’t know that last bit yet, but surely, faithful servant that she is, she knows that God doesn’t call people to easy lives of comfort and cheer. Doesn’t she know better than to say yes?
I don’t understand Mary.
In my dream, when I reach the elevator in the parking garage and see my friend smirking at me, I cry out desperately to him, “I can’t!” He always responds, exasperated, like he just can’t believe I don’t know the answer. “JUST DO IT,” he tells me.
And then I wake up.
If we look closer at the story of the angel coming to Mary though, we notice something: the angel doesn’t ask, and Mary doesn’t say yes. The angel merely tells Mary she’s going to bear God’s son. And Mary, rather than saying yes or no, asks, perhaps incredulously, or maybe even in fear, “how?”
How is it possible that God has called me? To this??
How is it possible that God has tasked me with something so enormous, so scary, so impossible?
But those aren’t the “how” questions Mary asks.
Mary asks, “How will God accomplish this impossible thing through me?”
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you. The Most High will overshadow you,” the angel answers. And the new life coming out of Mary would be Holy.
In my dream, if I were smart, if I were trusting, if I really meant what I said when I pray those impossible words that Jesus taught us, “thy will be done,” when faced with being stuck in the parking garage, rather than pronouncing, “I can’t!” I would ask, “How will God do this impossible thing?”
I don’t really understand Mary, because if I did, maybe when faced with those impossible things God calls us to, like living justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with him, I would ask how he would work for justice through me; how he would show mercy through me; how he would humble me.
If I did understand Mary, when faced with the charge not only to love my neighbors but to love my enemies as well, I would ask how, instead of saying I can’t.
If I did understand Mary, maybe when confronted with the challenge to care for the widowed and orphaned, to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, I would ask how, instead of saying I can’t.
And maybe the angel would tell me too, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” No matter how impossible it seems to me.
Maybe then I would understand Mary and I would say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”