Thursday, December 15, 2011

terror and joy

in the sixth month the angel gabriel was sent from God to a city of galilee named nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was joseph, of the house of david. and the virgin’s name was mary. and he came to her and said, "greetings, o favored one, the Lord is with you!" but she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 
luke 1:26-29
reading this passage this week, i was struck.  gabriel, an angel that sits right next to God himself (luke 1:19), comes to mary and basically says "you are favored!  God is with you!"  and her response is to be troubled.

why is this?

it could be because angels are terror-inducing.  unlike the shiny, happy people they are portrayed to be in our culture (for example, in the painting above by famous artist fra angelico),  angels are portrayed in the old testament as frightening warriors.  people fall on their face when they see angels and are tempted to worship them.

but i think mary's response may be for a different reason.  maybe she knows that God has a specific plan for her, and she wonders how painful it will be, ignoring the good that God will bring from it.

when God uses us in a big way, it is rarely a comfortable situation for us.  look at the prophets of the old testament:  they had to run and hide from those who wanted to kill them, they were often crying or depressed over the state of Israel (God's chosen people group), they had to stand up against masses of people who hated God, they had to go hungry and homeless, and some were killed for speaking the truth.  or look at the apostles, the founders of the Church.  all of jesus' disciples except for one were martyred (killed for their faith).  even while they were alive they were often homeless, poor, persecuted, chased out of towns and beaten for their words about Jesus.

the angel had good news: mary would mother God come to earth!  why would mary be terrified?  

in truth, mary did end up having a hard life because of the angel's news: she was ridiculed and called a whore for claiming she got pregnant as a virgin, she had to watch her sinless first born son endure an extremely painful execution, she watched many of her people turn away from God.  but do you think she cares about that now?  no, she is with God in the intermediate heaven, praising Him for what He has done and eagerly awaiting him to remake the earth and remove all the sin so that she can live there again.

are we afraid of God's plan for our lives?  this is a good question to ask ourselves.  are we afraid to take steps of faith that God is laying out for us to walk in?  why are we terrified?  maybe it is because we, like mary, may be more focused on the here and now than the eternal joy God is preparing for us.  set your eyes on eternity, beloved!  "and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace" (from the song "turn your eyes upon jesus")

a few months later, God gave mary a right perspective on her pregnancy, despite all the hardship it might bring.  here is her response:  

    and mary said,
    “my soul magnifies the Lord,
        and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
        for behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
    for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
        and holy is his name.
    and his mercy is for those who fear him
        from generation to generation.
    he has shown strength with his arm;
        he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
    he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
        and exalted those of humble estate;
    he has filled the hungry with good things,
        and the rich he has sent away empty.
    he has helped his servant israel,
        in remembrance of his mercy,
    as he spoke to our fathers,
        to abraham and to his offspring forever.”
luke 1:46-55

let us praise God like this with mary!

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