Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
When I picture the Annunciation, I often imagine the scene through Mary’s eyes—a young woman, betrothed, soon to leave all that she has known as a girl to begin a new life with Joseph. In the culture of the ancient Mediterranean world, she would likely never yet have been alone with a man outside her family. Her marriage would probably have been arranged by her parents, with the intention of joining and strengthening two families rather than the more romantic view we have today of joining two people. I imagine her a young woman on the cusp of transformation from girlhood to womanhood, from daughter to wife–both excited and nervous as she prepares to step into the unknown world of marriage and its many levels of intimacy and expectation around honor and shame dictated by her culture.
Enter the angel Gabriel! And it’s a good thing he begins with affirming that the Lord is with her and telling her “Do not be afraid” because he is about to announce the most shameful and feared thing that could happen to a young woman of her day: to conceive a child out of wedlock. Her family would be shamed, and Mary herself would be at risk of death.
We’re often quick to move on to Mary’s profession of faith: “May it be done to me according to your word.” But I invite us to take a moment and rest in Mary’s confusion, in what must have been a moment of collision between what her culture had taught her and what God was asking. The cognitive dissonance seems palpable. I imagine Mary struggling to try to make sense of it in the cultural framework she had known her whole life.
But God, through Gabriel, was shattering that framework. New life was springing from barren wombs. Nothing is impossible with God.
So I wonder, when I see all that is happening in the world: our struggles with racism, with economic inequality, with people being displaced by fire, drought and rising waters, whether we’re being invited to struggle with that same cognitive dissonance.
Our culture too often teaches us that more is better, that there isn’t enough for all of us, that we should fear people who are different from us, that creation is something to be consumed, and—most painfully—it holds systemic sins like racism. But God invites us to be part of a different story, the story of “God with us,” with us all.
According to a CBS news poll, nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe in angels. A “year-round presence” they say. I wonder if some may indeed look like George Floyd—angels who wake us up and remind us: “Do not be afraid.” We too are being asked to be part of this great birthing process, to bring to life what God has conceived in each of us, and all of us as the people of God.
Sometimes it feels like a path to certain death of all that I—we—have known, even of ourselves—as it must have for Mary. Yet isn’t this what the Paschal Mystery is all about?
Lissa Romell is the Administrator at St. Vincent Strambi Community in Chicago, Illinois.