“How can this be?”

Henry ossawa tanner - the annunciation

Advent Weekday

Luke 1:26-38

We can only imagine the flood of thoughts and emotions that were going through the mind of a young woman when she was visited by an angel and told that the Lord had chosen her of all those in history to be the mother of his Son.  Luke’s account of the Annunciation suggests at least two:  fear and confusion.  She was “deeply troubled” at what Gabriel told her and had trouble understanding what being “full of grace” and having the Lord with her really meant. 

Further, how could she possibly bear a child when she had never had sexual relations with a man? 

The angel met her anxiety and uncertainty with reassurance, telling her not to fear, to trust in God’s favor and to receive the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High.  She would be given whatever she needed to fulfill God’s purpose for her.

At various times in our lives we are confronted with Mary’s question:  “How can this be?”  Sometimes it comes to us in moments of grace and accomplishment, when we wonder what we ever did to be so blessed.  At other times it comes to us in moments of suffering and failure, when we ask why we must endure such pain. 

At some point we need to move beyond the confusion, questioning and speculation and just deal with what’s in front of us.  It simply is.  How will we respond?

We know how Mary answered that call.  She handed her heart, mind and entire self over to God’s wisdom and care, accepting the Son and the unique vocation that God had given her.  She had to do it over and over again, as Jesus grew in wisdom and strength under the guidance of her and Joseph; as they lost and then found him in the Temple engaging the teachers there; as he became a teacher and preacher in his own right; as he drove out demons, did miracles and gathered disciples; as he consorted with tax collectors and other sinners; and finally as she witnessed his execution. 

At each of these moments, Mary could have asked herself that same question she posed to Gabriel:  “How can this be?”  Yet each time her answer seems to have been, “Well, I’m not sure but I am ready to do God’s will.”  God gave her what she needed.

No wonder we call her the First Disciple.—JC