“The angel went to her and said…” (Luke 1:28)
Angels are only employed for special occasions in scripture. Their main role seems to be the perpetual praise of God, if Isaiah’s vision is true. They have a role in spiritual battles. But they also have a unique task for bringing news to the beloved. They bring tidings, messages, or words from the Divine to the people. In other words, when angels visit people, major announcements are made.
Major announcements aren’t necessarily good. They are world-changing for the person receiving the message. They are, in a sense, glad tidings, but that designation comes by the interpreters who have handled those stories for decades. The recipient may or may not see the tidings that way. I wonder if Mary’s first hearing was a joyous one.
We’d love to see Mary as a willing and open vessel. Indeed, she was and, in our regular use of her testimony, she is. But what if we reveal another part of her character? What if she is the strained girl who was looking forward to God’s plan happening in another way? What if she was looking forward to a regular, even common, life as a wife only to fear her chance at that life falling out of reach?
I do not know Mary’s state of mind. We get into trouble when we import our feelings into others. But it’s worth wondering if Mary was more relatable to us. I know people who’d love an angelic visitation, revile in it, proclaim it, and show it off as if it is a charm worth turning in the sunlight. But angelic visits strike terror in us when we’re sober. They bring upon us the unmistakable claim of another who is stronger, more convincing, and surely undeniable.
Mary may have experienced hesitation in those first fleeting moments between the angel’s appearance and his “Don’t be afraid.” I love to rush to the “Don’t be afraid” because there is comfort in those commanding words. But I live in the moment before that utterance.
I live closer to the experience of a girl whose hopes feel like departing friends never to be seen again. I live closer to the enormous shame that comes with being questioned, interrogated for your acts, turned over in the mouths of people who will never understand what happened to you as you explain it. When I consider my life as a father (and husband) raising our son–all of us black–I’m not able to dispense with my fears. In truth, most of us live much closer to Mary’s fear than we do her fearlessness.
And Advent is that season where we bring them both to the one who claims us. We bring our shame, even perceived shame, and our courage. We bring our surrender to a will greater and more glorious and we bring our dashed hopes. We bring Ferguson and New York and Chicago, all of them our Galilees and Nazareths. We bring all of ourselves. And we listen for the angel’s next words.