Just When You Least Expect It
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” – Luke 1:24-38
I was a bit taken aback when I opened the gospel reading in the lectionary for today and found that it told the story of the Annunciation—the announcement that Mary is to give birth to the Son of God. I expect this reading in Advent, but in the middle of May? Then again, the original announcement was most unexpected and everyone, including Mary, was taken aback, to say the least, so remembering the Annunciation in May seems entirely fitting.
In a Christmas pageant in the last church I served, when Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she would give birth to the “Son of the Most High,” the little girl who played Mary said in a loud, clear voice, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” To that, the girl playing the angel, responding to some unrehearsed reflex, gave a little shrug, as if to say, “Beats me, Mary. I’m just the messenger.”
If there is awkwardness in Christmas pageants, that may be because they reflect the awkwardness of the events they aim to depict. There is no familiar or predictable script to follow. Mary must be both mother of Jesus and, at the same time, the child of Jesus, who is Lord of us all. The shepherds, who know how to behave in a stable, know nothing about how to approach a king. The Magi, who know how to behave around a king, know nothing about what to do in a stable.
And no one knows what to expect next. After all, if the Ruler of the universe is born in such an unlikely manner, in a place no one would expect, then God could show up anywhere and at any time. Like May 18, for example.
Surprise me today, God, by showing up when I least expect you and help me know that it is you.
Martin B. Copenhaver is President of Andover Newton Theological School. His newest book is Room to Grow: Meditations on Trying to Live as a Christian.