December 19, 2021
Mi 5:1-4a; Ps 80:2-3, 15-19; Heb 10:5-10; Lk 1:39-45
Mary travels in haste through the Judean hill country to share the news of her pregnancy with her relative, Elizabeth. What must have been the emotional and spiritual state of these two pregnant women, both of whom conceived in the most extraordinary circumstances? Consider the sequence leading up to this visitation. Elizabeth’s husband, Zachariah, had encountered an angel in the temple and was then struck mute because he found it hard to believe that his wife would become pregnant in her old age. Mary’s husband, Joseph, encountered an angel in a dream saying HIS wife was pregnant even though she had not had relations with a man. Then Mary herself receives a visit from an angel to tell HER that she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. In the case of Mary and Zachariah the visiting angel was specifically identified as the Archangel Gabriel.
Let’s just take that seriously for a moment. The angels are part of God’s heavenly hosts. Hosts means ‘army’. It was God’s hosts that cast Lucifer and his army of subversive angels out of heaven. It’s likely this group, this heavenly host, was a fairly imposing group. It’s no wonder that the angels always start with ‘Do not be afraid.’ It is almost expected that a normal person would be afraid and likely terrified at such a visit. I can imagine myself being shocked, perhaps frozen or traumatized just enough to get through the episode. All the ‘fight or flight’ adrenaline might be rising to the occasion within oneself. Mary seems oddly composed despite the otherworldly nature of this whole episode. It of course helped that she was uniquely prepared for this occasion, but still she was fully human. I was wondering if there was a pent up or suppressed fear which enabled her to travel with haste in the hill country…while pregnant! She might have been to some extent holding the sides of her head screaming as she ran toward her kinswoman. Elizabeth saw her coming and she caught the spirit as surely did the infant in her womb. The two ‘pre-borns’ recognized each other in a way that went beyond the intellect. They could feel their mothers’ excitement and MAYBE even some hysteria at this great providential meeting. They kicked. They were mission ready. “Let’s DO THIS!!”
Can you put yourself for a moment in this scene? Have you ever felt such a combination of fear, confusion and exhilaration at the same time? Have you ever waited for or desired something for a long time; maybe consciously or subconsciously, and now it’s on the verge of happening? Maybe you are getting the promotion you always wanted or knew you deserved and now you’re getting it? But now you know you are going to have to up your game a bit? The money is there and so is the influence but ALSO the responsibilities and the raised expectations. Exhilaration and fear at the same time? Aaaaahhhh!!
Maybe you’ve been waiting for just the right Prince Charming or Princess to come along and now, out of nowhere, there SHE is? Is she almost too beautiful? Are you refined enough or charming enough for her? Will you have to fight off other suitors to keep her attention? In such a smitten state, will you even be able to defend your opinions or your money when with her? Aaaahhhhh!
Maybe you ARE pregnant? Joy of joys, but how many things can go wrong? What if it’s a boy…or a girl? What if somebody loses their job? What about Covid?!! But the joy of new life surpasses any obstacle…. Aaahhh!! Hot and cold, exhilarated and terrified, wanting a and doubting? Aaaahhhh!
What about heading out on a solo backpacking trip. The mountain trail winds out and calls before you and miles ahead you can see where you hope to camp for a day or two. All the natural scents are in the air and the sky is clear and dark blue…. at least for now, but what about midafternoon when the mountain storms usually move in? Lightning? Are you better off in a grove of trees or out in the open? What if the stream is way up? Can you balance-walk across the fallen log skillfully enough to avoid falling into the quick moving, ice cold spring water? There’s a hundred ways to die out there and who would ever find you? The sign said ‘Bear Country’ but only black bears and they don’t even like to be around humans, ….. right? This is too crazy! I’ll just stay in the campground and do a couple dayhikes. But, the pull of the wild country seems to affix itself to the deepest part of your soul. There is a strange sort of familiarity and comfort in this wildness. I can’t NOT go in!!! What the
hell, I mean what the heaven. STEP IN. Exhilaration seems to always include risk and a certain level of fear.
BUT, getting back to the holy families…. What is almost equally fascinating is that both women were married (or almost married) to men who had also bought into this whole otherworldly affair. They too had been shocked and fearful at the coming of an archangel and the always terrifying mission that comes with a supreme messenger. But because they were men of the temple, married to righteous and devout women, they accepted the calming ‘fear not’ of the angel’s greeting and proceeded in faith. They were as prepared as they could be and they now all bought into the mission… AND we can add at this point, they actually succeeded!!
Two thousand-plus years later this same mission continues and includes all of us. Are we (clergy, husbands, wives, children, parish communities) prepared to recognize the messengers in our lives? Are we all hearing messengers from the same God? How is our fear and anxiety being transformed into enthusiasm for the mission regardless of the cost? This is Advent, the time of preparation …. If we recognize the messengers it will lead us to a genuinely HOLY and MERRY CHRISTMAS.