It seems to me that Gabriel is being awfully glib when he tells Mary: “Do not be afraid” (v. 30). Can you think of anything more terrifying than being told that you are pregnant with the son of God? What a profound and terrifying sense of responsibility Mary must have felt.
As an anxious person, I’m constitutionally obligated to get nervous after I hear a piece of good news. When I learned that my second baby was a girl, I had one blissful evening before thoughts of misfortune whined like mosquitoes in my ear. Surely, I thought, I’ll get cancer and die by the age of 40, leaving my children motherless before they have a chance to remember me. I had a delightful, healthy little boy and now I was pregnant with the daughter I’d longed for. No one is allowed to hold on to that kind of good luck for long, I thought.
I wandered through my pregnancy in a heightened state of vigilance—standing back from crosswalks, worrying over an absent-minded bite into a slice of pepperoni pizza. I felt responsible for protecting my good fortune, even as I was certain it wouldn’t last. As humans, our instincts about narrative tell us that stories that begin badly almost always end well, and that happy stories end tragically—it’s the literary equivalent of gravity.
That formula holds true with the story of Jesus’ life, which begins in these verses. Most Bible readers know this story will end sadly for Mary, who will watch her son die as a young man. As with any well-told story, waiting to see how the tragedy will unfold for Mary is part of the suspense that draws us in. But it also fills me with awe for the bravery Mary shows as she takes on this huge responsibility from God.
When does living with faith make you anxious? How do you respond to the directive, “Be not afraid”?
God, let me learn from Mary how to live with courage and faith. Amen.