The angel said to her:
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.”
It is striking how frequently an angelic encounter, in Scripture, includes those lovely words: Do not be afraid! In part, that may have something to do with the fact that an experience of the angelic realm may not be quite as “groovy” as we sometimes like to imagine. To stand in the presence of the divine—or in the presence of one who mediates the divine presence such as an angel—is for us, as human beings, to face a possibility that can prove to be more than a little bit intimidating and unsettling. Thus Mary is said to have been perplexed when the angel greeted her; thus the angel, in response, assures her that there is nothing to fear.
As we read the subsequent account of Mary’s journey in Luke’s Gospel, we come to learn that the angel may have spoken somewhat prematurely: at least as the world measures such things. The life-history on which Mary is launched, with the angel’s greeting, is one which—by many standards—would not qualify her life as an especially happy one. Tainted with the scandal of her son’s rumoured illegitimacy, charged with the responsibility of raising a child whose destiny could not help but puzzle even a well-disposed onlooker, in the end following his footsteps—and becoming a helpless onlooker—at his scandalous death, it’s hard to escape the impression that Mary must have needed to recall the angel’s words on many subsequent occasions. Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God
As we begin our time of preparation—this Advent time of waiting and watching—it behoves us to recall the angel’s words. As was true for Mary, those words do not offer us any guarantee of lives free from strife and challenge. As was true for Mary, however, it is not necessarily the case that God desires for us such lives, since God’s true goal for each and for all is that we—like Mary—be launched on an adventure that will give birth, in us, to the capacity to reflect God’s goodness and God’s glory. That reflection may sometimes shine in moments of triumph; as was true for Mary, and for the Son to whom she gave birth, that reflection will also shine (and often with enhanced radiance) in moments of testing and trial.
May the angel’s words resonate in our hearts and in our lives: Do not be afraid…for you have found favor with God.
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