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.”
When I was young, a handful of years older than the age we assume Mary was when visited by an angel, I laid in the living room of Jimmy the Junkie as he scratched a large tattoo on my back. I was left with vague, greenish shapes, scar tissue and $100 less in my pocket, but amazingly, miraculously, not Hep C.
When we think about the Annunciation, this scene between the angel Gabriel and Mary, we think of the faith it took for her to believe that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit and that her son, the illegitimate child of an insignificant girl, really would have a throne and a kingdom. But I wonder: If I had been in her place, which would be harder for me to believe: The part about a virgin giving birth to a king? Or the part where the angel said I was favored? I mean, if an angel came to me and said, “Greetings, favored one,” I’d be like, you’ve got the wrong girl.
But here’s where Mary had some real chops. She heard outrageous things from an angel and she didn't say “Let me see if I get any better offers” She didn't say “Let me get back to you” said, she heard outrageous things from an angel and said “Let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary trusted the word from the angel, telling her that she was favored. And maybe that trust is what made her favored.
We have no idea what Mary was like before the angel visited her, but here’s what I’m thinking: I seriously doubt that she made herself into a girl whom God could favor because she took the advice of her youth rabbi and lived the way she should. I mean, nowhere does it say that the angel Gabriel just waited and waited until he found a girl who had diligently worked on her virtues hard enough that she had made herself worthy to be the Godbearer. I mean, if the way God seems to favor prostitutes and tax collectors and adulterous kings over the smug, righteous, and powerful is any indication, then I think it’s safe to assume that it is God’s nature to look upon young peasant girls with favor.
Because God’s just like that.
So maybe the really outrageous act of faith on Mary’s part was trusting that she had found favor with God. This, it seems to me, is a vital and overlooked miracle of the Annunciation story. Yet instead, we prefer to focus on what virtues we think Mary must have had so that we can cultivate them in ourselves and maybe make our own selves worthy of God.
Hail Mary full of virtue, the Lord is with thee?
No. Hail Mary, full of GRACE, the Lord is with thee, the prayer goes.
Grace. The one thing you simply cannot earn.
I think that this is exactly what Mary understood: That what qualifies us for God’s grace isn’t our goodness – what qualifies us for God’s grace is nothing more than our need for God’s grace.
I hope so. Because I just can’t manage to muster up a yes to what seemed like God’s conditional maybe toward me.
But God’s yes about me, for me, and toward me? That different.
That’s a useful miracle.
So, I won’t say that I hope this season is merry. I won’t say that I hope it is happy and bright. But I will say this: I hope you hear a divine “yes.” this season.
In other words, may your soul feel its worth.
By the way, I love and respect myself more than I did when I was young. Way more.
So years ago I covered up that old tattoo with an image that suited me better.
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