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, favoured 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 favour 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 for ever, 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.Wouldn't it be wonderful to get such a clear message from God? A direct visitation from an angel -- that would be more definitive than neon lights or skywriting or the other signs that I often long for when discerning God's message to me.
I used to think that Gabriel's appearance was the source of Mary's confident response to the unexpected, disruptive news that the angel brings. "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." An otherworldly spectacle would certainly grab anyone's attention, overcome their fear and galvanize them into action. Right?
But Mary's encounter with the angel doesn't suggest a change of mind or heart. She is perplexed by the visitation at first, but her simple question and then her acceptance of a new life sounds to me more like a deepening of an existing revelation, another chapter in a a story already in progress.
We human beings have a pretty bad record noticing when God is speaking to us. Adam and Eve ignored clear, direct orders. God's prophets to Israel were routinely ignored. The power structure of his day plotted to trap and execute Christ. Today, when some try to hear God speaking for the poor in the midst of economic upheaval, or for the environment in the face of disaster, other voices are quick to question. Rarely do we have clarity about God's message in real time; often our best understanding comes from looking back at unfolding revelation.
So how do we move forward? It seems to me that trusting response, like Mary's, to God's call doesn't come from an overwhelmingly convincing voice from above, but from a gradual deepening of our own ability to notice God's presence with us. Mary's willingness to submit to the claim God places on her life isn't so much a response as it is a sign that she recognizes God's love and companionship down to the very depths of her soul.