I picture Mary hanging the laundry when Gabriel arrived, some physical chore, with rolled sleeves and a wandering mind, no Botticelli blues or Fra Angelico halos. A girl with some muscle and grit, at work. Then, a strange man entering the gate with words nuanced in, ?mystery?, innuendo?, surely any girl worth her salt knows that when a stranger offers compliments there is a price to pay sooner or later. Fear. Do not fear, though, the stranger says, and even in those words perhaps fear dissipates into curiosity. There are glorious references to prophecy and royalty and God, but her question is straightforward. Biologically speaking, you must have me confused with someone else, I've never been with a man, so . . . how can this be? Much is going to be required of this young woman, which may be why she gets more of an answer than her cousin's husband did to his similar objections. There is a power that will overshadow and transform, a seed that will begin to grow. There is a new force at work even in your barren cousin, because the impossible is becoming possible.
Noting is impossible, but also nothing is by force. I think what strikes me this year in the Luke 1 portion of Mary's story is that moment of consent. Behold, let it be to me according to your word. That the entire story, the entire pivot point of history is there. A message that will require this person to participate, or opt out. The stakes are high: potential for joy, for glory, for honour, for love, for a place in filling the throne that explodes into a kingdom that grows without end. But how much can she see of the cost: shame, rejection, maybe even stoning, death. If she survives to birth, will she survive the birth itself? Rachel did not. And if she survives that process, she has perhaps enough life experience to see that the role of a woman who raises children is backbreaking labor and high potential for loss. It's not a glass slipper on a silk pillow being offered. It is a pregnancy.
2020 has at times felt like that pregnancy: nausea, weariness, isolation, uncertainty, potential death always lurking in the corners of the room. A few days ago I noticed that my counting of #Covid19-Uganda days was going to hit 280 on Christmas. 280 days, a full gestational period, 40 weeks. Most of us don't probably feel like we had much choice in our lock-downs, or relocations. Or perhaps more accurately, we consented at some point to stay in this year of resistance (be it against a corona virus, or racism, or anti-democracy politics, or war, or malaria, or despair, or sin in all its oily staining hatefulness) and it is only now at the year's end, day 275/280 in the pregnancy, that we look back and realise the weight of what we carry.
There is no one in the entire Bible who experienced God in the same way Mary did, in her body. She was stretched, not just in her soul growing to magnify the LORD, but in her skin taunt, her ligaments loosening. Her heart was literally pumping for both of them. She was thinking big thoughts about the upheaval of the way-things-go where the rich rule the poor. And yet on day 275 she was also scrabbling together what she could in Bethlehem to prepare for the trial of her life, still poor. At this point, God-with-her was fairly disadvantageous. No perks.
I suppose the small encouragement is: if life feels uncomfortable, weighty, exhausting. . . that is hardly evidence of God's absence. It might be the proof in the pudding of God's presence.Neither Mary, nor Joseph, nor Elizabeth, nor Zechariah, nor John the Baptist, nor the shepherds, nor even the wise men, seemed to emerge very comfortable from the presence of God on earth.