by Aaron Alford
Painting: Henry Ossawa Tanner – The Annunciation.
The angel Gabriel stands before a teenage girl named Mary. He has just announced to her the most important news in the history of mankind. A Saviour is to be born, the very Son of God, and she has been chosen to be his mother. All of salvation history, from Adam through to Malachi, has come to this point. God has made a people for himself, led them like a shepherd, slowly revealing to them his true character, making them to be a light to the world. He has sent them judges and kings and prophets, all in the hope of readying them for his ultimate plan of salvation from sin and death: the gift of his own Son, the Saviour of the world, the eternally begotten Word who shall live, suffer and die as one of them, and who will at last be raised from the dead into glorious life.
But for now, the angel stands before a peasant girl, and awaits her reply.
Not even this angel who lives eternally in the presence of the Almighty can know what will happen if the girl says No. He simply hopes with his whole being she says Yes. Many kings and prophets who have gone before said No to the call of God, or at the very least tried to run from it. Eve herself, graced as she was to walk with God in the Garden, chose selfishness.
Though she’s been graced with a life that has prepared her for this moment, there’s still no reason she couldn’t refuse. She, as much as any before her, has a free will, to choose the good or not, and now everything hinges on her answer. The angel knows all of this, but of course you couldn’t tell by the look on his face. He simply smiles, and waits for her answer.
She takes a breath, holding everything the angel has told her in her heart. Finally, she speaks.
“Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be done unto me as you have said.”
And every angel in heaven breathes a sigh of relief, and a cry of jubilation.
This, obviously, is simply my imaginative conjecture on what happened in that moment so long ago, but the truth remains that at one point in history, God’s plan of salvation came down to the Yes or No of one girl. I’m sure we could have an interesting debate about what God might have done if she had said, “No, thanks!” but that’s not the point I want to make here.
In a culture that has a particularly difficult time sorting out what it means to be a man or a woman, where our ideas of fatherhood and motherhood have been tainted by our own experiences of our own imperfect moms and dads, it can be a controversial and misunderstood thing to refer to God as “Father” or even as “He”. God, of course, is beyond our understanding of male and female. Indeed, the ideas of male and female originate from God himself, so both characteristics are fully and completely within his nature.
But for some reason, God chose to reveal himself in terms of a Father. So what does that mean for us? If God has chosen to identify as “male”, at least in terms of his fathering actions and attitude, could it be that we as humans are meant to identify as female?
Sex, as it is meant to be expressed in marriage, is a man and woman embracing in a mutual act of love and self-giving. A husband offers himself to his beloved, and new life is created and born into the world through the loving consent of a mother. If God has ordained this as the most basic method of the continuation of life on earth, there may be something here we should pay attention to in terms of our spiritual lives and our relationship with God the Father.
Gentleman, we need to embrace our feminine side, because the world is in desperate need of some bearded moms!
I’m sure we’ve all had a “church chuckle” about being called the Bride of Christ, but it may be time to give a little more thought to this feminine aspect of our relationship with God. What does it mean to think of our spiritual lives in terms of the actions of a wife and mother?
Mary said Yes to the Holy Spirit, who planted in her the Word of God. This Word, after nine months of quiet nurturing, was born into the world for the salvation of humankind. Like little Mary, we must be open to the work of the Holy Spirit. In every moment, we are in some sense standing before the angel Gabriel, and being given a chance to let the Lord plant in us the seed of his Word, to receive him in an act of self-giving love. And we are free to accept or reject his advances.
But first, of course, we need to be quiet enough to hear that angel’s greeting in the first place. We need to set aside our own agendas and shut up long enough for the Gabriel in our lives to get a word in edgewise! We must create spaces for intimacy. To quietly ponder, as Mary did, what is happening around us and what God may be doing. Then we need to embrace the simplicity and courage with which humble Mary received God’s Word to her, listening and responding with a humble “Yes”. Then, if we nurture the Word which the Spirit plants, in the fullness of time God will bring that Word into the world through us. We will see the fruit of the Father’s work in our lives and in the world around us.
What an awesome invitation, and what a staggering responsibility! God himself, in his vast humility, awaits our humble reply. Such a reply requires absolute trust, a determination of heart to trust in the Father’s providence and character, and a willingness to let go of our desire to control or predict the outcome. After all, Mary could never have predicted that she would give birth to her son while surrounded by cattle, but even then she trusted in God’s character and will. She was a model of courage and faithfulness we as men would do well to imitate.
So what is your answer? Will you face the Father with fear, or faith? Will you run like Jonah, or show the simple trust of Mary? More than that, can you receive this word with the love and care of a wife and mother? Will you patiently nurture that which God has planted, without rushing towards an early delivery? Can you say right along with the mother of Our Lord, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done unto me as you have said.”
Are you man enough to be a mom?