Return to site

A Handmaid's Trust

· Fr Phil Paxton

To all,

As we move closer to Christmas, this Sunday’s Gospel reading (Luke 1:26-38) is Luke’s account of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is to be the mother of the Messiah. There is a verse in this reading that this year of 2020 has helped me to understand better than before. When the angel Gabriel comes to Mary, he says, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Other translations have, “Hail, favored one!” And then Luke tells us: “But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”

Over the years, I always thought, “Well, who wouldn’t be a bit perplexed if an angel came out of nowhere and arrived at your house to give you a message.” But maybe it’s more than that. If an angel were to come to one of us at this time, we might be wondering, “What does he mean, ‘full of grace?’ I’m in a world in the grips of a pandemic, in a country deeply divided, wondering how well my kids are being educated virtually, looking for another job, etc.” Maybe Mary was thinking similar things: “What does he mean, ‘full of grace?’ Many of our leaders say that the rich are the ones who have found favor with God, and I’m not rich. I’m not in the king’s court, or close to any of the powers that be in Jerusalem. I’m a nobody, except maybe to Joseph. And besides that, my people are occupied by these pagan Romans, who are not believers. It’s been a long time since God has manifested Himself, as he did when we were freed from Egypt.”

And so the angel says to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God;” and then proceeds to tell her that she is to be the Mother of the Messiah, who will be called “Son of the Most High.” But Mary still doesn’t understand how this will happen, since she is a virgin. And then the angel tells her that she will conceive a child by the Holy Spirit. For me, I’m not sure that would have made it any clearer.

But even though she is moving in unknown territory, Mary puts her trust in God. Maybe that is why, as Luke tells us at various times, that Mary kept all these things in her heart, trying to understand God’s plan. Again, even though she doesn’t understand everything, she is willing to let it be done to her as God wills.

In times like these, can we put our trust in God? It may seem more reasonable to conclude that God has forsaken us. But the Cross of Christ tells us differently. The Cross tells us that God can bring good out of evil, that God can lead us from the Passion to Resurrection, and perhaps most importantly, that God is with us in our time of suffering.

At the end of all this, Mary says to the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” Even though we may be hurting, can we find a way to be servants to God in helping others? As we close this season of Advent, maybe this is the way we make room for Jesus; maybe this is the way we herald His coming; and maybe this is the way we bear Jesus into the world.

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ Who Is to Come,

Phil, CP