Advent – After The Annunciation And Mary’s Pregnancy In Context
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. – Luke 1:26-37
N.B.: This is my favorite part of the film. As Joseph and Mary head out of Nazareth for the long journey to Bethlehem, and we have seen how Mary’s friends and Joseph’s friends have deserted them because of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph turns to Mary and says, “They’re going to miss us.”
The Roman Catholic Church is far more aware of the whole conception/pregnancy/birth timing thing, placing the Feast of the Annunciation in March, yet we Protestants cram it all into Advent. Textually speaking, there just isn’t a whole lot in St. Luke’s Gospel about what Mary’s surprise meant for her. St. Matthew’s Gospel at least hints at the man Joseph, his sense of honor as well as compassion, preferring to end his engagement to Mary quietly rather than threaten her life with an accusation of adultery. Then, Joseph’s dream comes, and rather than let her go, he takes her in to his home, which all but announces to Nazareth the child Mary is carrying is his. Both, then, have broken both the Law and their vow to God to remain pure for one year.
The film The Nativity Story does for the season of Advent what a thousand sermons and years of study could never do. We see the social and political and religious turmoil. We see the people living out their faith, sometimes under the most difficult of conditions. We see how living out that faith impacts how they live in community with those believed to have broken the law. Even little things, like Mary touching the mezzuzah at the entrance to her house; the bodies of rebels left to rot hanging on trees, prostitutes and pick-pockets, the money-changers at the Temple doing their necessary yet greedy task. We see the ruthlessness of King Herod – a necessary trait for one in a position such as his – even as he tries to rebuild both the Temple and the city of Jerusalem, restoring both to their former glory.
The story of the Annunciation – the angel Gabriel comes and tells Mary she’s going to conceive and bear a child and after a bit of haggling over the physical details she submits – seems so wonderful. Who wouldn’t want an angel to come and tell them they’ve been chosen to do a job? Not just any job, in this case, but be the mother of the Son of God? It seems something young women would be fighting over, right? Except, alas, as with all the stories in both Testaments in which God says, “Yo, got a job for you,” all the person gets is the “what” of the job. Moses is to free the people from Egypt; David is to be King, but not build a Temple; Jeremiah’s been a prophet since before he was born; St. Paul’s got work to do among the Gentiles. This is all fine and dandy. The problem, of course, is there is never a how. The only one to challenge this neglectfulness is Moses who says to the angel in the burning bush, “How do I know you’re really who you say you are, calling me to free the Hebrews from Egypt?” The voice from the bush answers by not answering: “You’ll know when you bring the people back here and come up here for more instructions.”
The Nativity Story fills in the gaps between the Annunciation and the birth in a way that is enlightening, funny at times, sad, horrifying, and reveals just how precarious a position Mary and Joseph occupied, socially and religiously, by not only carrying the baby to term, but Joseph inviting Mary in to his house prior to the end of the year’s betrothal. As with all God’s callings, we need to remember that we get a “what”. The “how”, well . . . that can get tricky, even dangerous. The thing is, however, somehow what God says God wants the Divine Servants to do gets done, even in the midst of threats of death. Perhaps it reveals Mary’s faith – and Joseph’s – in the midst of their fear. Yet, it is a reminder that faith does not erase fear; it can accompany it, and if we persist, the fear does not overwhelm our faithful commitment.
Part of preparing ourselves for Christmas might well be understanding the complexities of faith, how fear and faith can yet intertwine, and that we should persevere not despite the fear, but rather even in the midst of it. The Nativity Story does this beautifully. I highly recommend it as part of your family’s Advent celebration.