The angel Gabriel appears to the virgin Mary in 1898’s ‘The Annunciation’ by Pennsylvania artist Henry Ossawa Tanner.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
This is by far my favorite expression of Gabriel’s visit to Mary. I can’t get over the expression on her face…the disheveled look of the clothes and her blanket, the slight slouch in her shoulders, and her hands in her lap. It’s just so gorgeous, I pretty much want to weep every time I look at it.
As I look at it again here, my mind drifts to where I was last year. We were in full-blown Advent, and my stomach was pretty full-blown, too. The whole year previous felt like a dream with the trip to Ireland (and my first time in Europe), then the ups an downs of fertility and pregnancy with surgeries, needles, and enough doctor visits to make me able to drive there in my sleep, then the shortened DR trip, the quick visit to the Steel City, and then trying to manage the program year and my protruding belly. With all my raging hormones, I wondered how I would feel in Advent, all the themes of promise and anticipation, and then, of course, the story of Mary.
I actually was pretty okay back then. Maybe it was because I was tired from being swollen, and just wanted to get through the season without falling on my face.
But, when I sit here and think about it all now, I feel an unmistakable ache. It’s not a terrible ache, not at all an undesirable or unwanted one. It’s the kind that’s in my stomach and chest, and ready to burst out – the kind that has all sorts of emotions mixed into it, a sprinkle of sadness, and one that strangely makes me feel really alive. All manner of tastes, smells, sounds, and sights are coming back: The twins wrestling around in me, one kicking me fairly low so I felt it in my back, and the other one elbowing me hard under my ribs. Sitting in my chair on the chancel so close to the organ, and feeling the notes reverberate throughout the sanctuary, and the babies dancing in response. Red, green, white, gold swirling together, and candles and lights in my periphery. The sound of singing, with surprising gusto, especially in this season, when people are desperate to feel more than the usual during “ordinary time,” and letting that be made known a little more.
All that we went through with the babies – I spent a lot of quiet time pondering the wonder of the pregnancy. It was a dream after struggling through so much. These days, though, there is much noise and play with the babies crawling, singing, and exploring, so I don’t have as much time and space to ponder all those Advent miracles around me. But, at least I know of two really obvious ones in front of me.
It’s hard. Still, I realize now that when I have Mary’s posture of openness – “Here am I” – that presence and availability, I can see and feel much more…it just takes a while. Sometimes days, weeks, months even. I need patience not only for the babies but for me. Thank God, for those flashes of light…that remind me there is so much more. Thank God that God is here. Thank God no matter how much it feels like I am running ragged with fussy, teething, runny-nosed babies, it is possible. It is possible to feel and be connected, to feel all of it, to feel life deeply.