to a man named Joseph, of the house of David,
and the virgin's name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
Luke 1: 26-28
For centuries, artists have pictured Mary at this moment in a variety of devout settings, surrounded by angels, covered in red velvet or standing amid tapestries and silver candles.
These paintings can have a lot of power, and we can study the symbolism and love the artist lavished on them for a long time, being drawn even deeper into the mystery. But sometimes we might feel that these beautiful paintings don't let Mary be real. We might imagine her as barefoot, cooking her own food and having a distinctive personality.
Although some of us may have once arrogantly dismissed her as “irrelevant” to our faith, we might find that we now rely on her for prayers and as a place to mull over the challenges of family and marriage. Using our imaginations, we might meditate on her, picturing her as a young woman of deep faith, long steeped in the Jewish tradition waiting for the Messiah. She must have read the Isaiah passages many times and prayed over them as her heart filled with gratitude and great dreams.
“O Lord, you are
Her simple life probably included dreams of marriage, raising a family, teaching children the Jewish laws and traditions. But perhaps it was bigger than that. We might imagine that Mary's heart had grown in her humility and generosity to God. Now she would be asked for the ultimate sacrifice. It invites us to wonder what kind of woman Mary was.
We can envision her dark hair and eyes, her love of people. We can picture a charismatic figure, one who had, at any given moment, a kitchen filled with people, enjoying her well-known hospitality. Her stove was always going, good smells filling the air. With our imaginations, we might see Mary as an entertainer with a wonderful, billowing laugh centered in her joy of life. And a story-teller. Mary's tales were famous around town, and in later years, her son would make great use of the talent he learned from his mother.
One morning the young woman was alone in her kitchen at mid-morning. A pot of soup bubbled on the fire as she prayed over the ancient words of the scriptures. Then, as she so often did, she poured out her heart to God, asking to be of service, to be open to anything he might ask.
“Therefore the Lord
himself will give you this sign:
She longed for the Messiah as all Jewish people did. It was deep in her tradition, in the prayers and scriptures. She prayed as she stirred her soup.
She wasn't frightened, but suddenly she was aware of a young man standing in her kitchen. She turned and looked toward him, never taking her hand off the spoon that stirred her soup. His presence was oddly comfortable until he dropped to one knee. “Hail, favored one. The Lord is with you.”
Favored one? She was unsure and a small fear crept into her heart. What was this?
“Do not be afraid,
Mary, for you have found favor with God.
Her first reaction
was unexpected. “Oh, please no,” she whispers. What was this
invitation? She wanted only a simple life, to marry Joseph, go to
the Temple each year, live in the town she knew so well. Fear
clung to her and knotted her stomach. “I can't do this. I don't know
how. I'm not worthy. I know I said I would do anything, but God must
have me confused with someone else. Someone more worthy.”
Then, she knew. She turned back to the young man and nodded. I will do just as I have been asked, she said.
And deep in our own
souls, we pray with the same heart, asking for the fears to be eased,
asking to feel God walking with us in this daily path of life, not
certain that we can handle everything that is coming.