A girl named Mary pledges her heart and hearth to a pregnancy and a child in Sunday’s gospel. So attentive to the stirring of the Spirit is this young woman that she hears an angel speak and so unassuming is she that the angel’s greeting totally confuses her. Who me? Full of grace and favor? God is with me, yes, of course, always. What does this greeting mean? Mary doesn’t run. She ponders and stays in the conversation.
As if the greeting isn’t perplexing enough, the angel announces to Mary she will conceive and bear a son who will be the Son of God and Israel’s long-promised messiah. Having a child is a big, life-changing deal. It means orienting one’s whole life around the child—feeding, clothing, sheltering the child, getting up in the night. Mary asks a forthright and practical question. How? How can I conceive and bear a son? I’m still a girl, a virgin.
The angel’s answer is in no way an answer satisfactory for scientific questions. We don’t know how Mary conceived. The angel explains that the Spirit will come upon Mary, the same Spirit that stirred the chaos into cosmos. This vast web of life and light of which we are part and which we see surrounding us on starry nights testifies to the power of God to give life. Not only does all that is testify, God’s blessings and saving actions in Israel’s history testify to the power of the Most High that will overshadow Mary. The shekinah or cloud led Israel through the desert and overshadowed the meeting tent where the ark of the covenant stood. The cloud shines with divine presence, its shadow protects and comforts in a hot arid land. The whole cosmos and the history of Israel testify nothing is impossible with God.
Mary responds to God’s invitation, “Here I am.” I am present to you, attentive. I give my heart to birthing and mothering the one who will make us whole. I give my hearth to welcoming and nurturing the one I will name Jesus. Mary, like each of us, has within a deep interior where she can say yes to our unfolding and partnering in generating life, each of us a consciousness in which the cosmos knows itself; each of us a self who can freely say no or yes. With Mary’s yes, a child begins to grow in a warm, dark womb nestled below the heart of this vigorous young mother who thinks nothing of hiking off on foot 75 miles to see her kinswoman with whom she ponders the mystery they are living.
God musters no divine army for peacemaking and nation building, manufactures no tasers or teargas to stop protests, drops no bombs to end tyranny. God invests in becoming one of us to show us all each of us can become through love. With his mother’s DNA, the history of the world joins in becoming part of Jesus’ being. The bacteria that first learned to use oxygen to fuel life are there at work. The iron born in the supernovas of ancient stars runs red in Jesus’ veins. The upright bearing and nimble hands of the early toolmakers serve Jesus well in making walls and tables. From Mary’s body and blood comes Jesus’ own.
It is Mary who first welcomes this child. Hers is the heart that says yes to him and never stops saying yes to him—not when people say he is out of his mind, not when he dies forsaken on the cross. Hers is the hearth and hospitality Jesus knows as home. I imagine Jesus as a child helping around the cooking fire and other women noticing, “He sure looks like you, Mary.”
The Second Vatican Council holds up Mary as a model for believers. The progress of the gospel in the world depends on the prayer and spiritual experience of believers, of us, who like Mary ponder all that happens in our hearts.
Today we celebrate the word becoming flesh in Mary and becoming one of us in the vast and holy pregnancy in which we live. We have within us the built-in capacity of the cosmos to become more. The impossible can come to be in us, at our hearths where we welcome neighbors, fill them with good things, and ponder together our world perplexing problems. The impossible can come to be in our hearts where we say yes to justice and peace unfolding in our daily actions. Like Mary we are full of grace and pregnant with holy possibilities.