26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,27 to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.28 And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”29 But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:26-30) These verses are from the account of the Annunciation which is the gospel reading this 4th Sunday in Advent in the year 2020.
Mary is “greatly troubled (dietarachthe) at what was said.” The expression means to be deeply troubled, be perplexed, be confused – not surprised. If Mary is surprised, the scripture is silent on that matter. If a angel, a heavenly being, a spirit, a… anything showed up in my room in the middle of the night, neither “surprised” or “greatly troubled” would be my reaction. I would be flat out terrified, heart racing, adrenaline kicking in…what about you? It seems it is not the angel’s appearance that perplexes her, according to Luke; it’s the things the angel says.
In perhaps a bit of scriptural daydreaming, was Mary accustomed to seeing angels and engaging with them? When people ask me about thing spiritual, other-worldly and the like, I often respond, “Just because the birds don’t talk to me, does not mean they don’t talk.” I know lots of people who I think have a more heightened sense of the divine than me.
But then again, if Mary’s reaction was taken aback and surprised, scripture does not need to mention it. And the argument from silence is typically a weak argument. Still…if encountering angels is not the norm for Mary, maybe she is doing what I might do (once the adrenaline leveled out): talking to herself. “This is ok. It’s gonna’ be alright. Just hear what the angel has to say.”
“Hail favored one! The Lord is with you” While in my case, I might find that pretty encouraging, Mary seems to be troubled by it all. I have often wondered why she would be troubled. We normally think of Mary as the model of serenity and holiness, someone whose whole life leads to this moment, and yet she is troubled. Maybe she was just processing: “This is ok. It’s gonna’ be alright.” While at the same time wondering if the angel has the right person. “There must be more holy people than me. People with wisdom. Daughters of prophets or priest. Why me?” Maybe, in all the fretting and worry, it doesn’t occur to her that the angel is just relaying the message from God: she is highly favored by God and God is with her.
And that I get why that be troubling.
In the midst of this “when is this going to end” year of pandemic, who wouldn’t struggle with the idea that I am favored by God and God is with me. It has been a dismal year: economic hardship, political strife, attempts to undermine the very foundation of our democracy, a new and sharper awareness of longstanding racial injustice, the promise of a vaccine even as hospitalizations and deaths surge to new and devastating highs…. The list goes on and all of it contributes to having a hard time believing the announcement of the angel and the promise of Christmas.
And this is why the religious celebration of Christmas is so vital. Even if attendance at church in person is limited or not possible, the religious celebration in our homes is so very vital. Sing the carols, pray at your manger scene, proclaim the Christmas readings – remind ourselves that Christmas is the fulfillment of the promise given of old, proclaimed by the prophets, that God comes to us to tell us we are loved, favored, and with us. Now and always.
Be the angel Gabriel for someone who needs to hear: “Hail favored one! The Lord is with you.”