Spray Paint, Baklava, and the Bumpy Road from Annunciation to Magnificat

Spray Paint, Baklava, and the Bumpy Road from Annunciation to Magnificat

I have a charming, beautiful toddler. She makes us all laugh, she’s mischievous, she’s lots of fun. She is also very, very boring. The TV shows she watches are made for her age group, so there are a lot of bright colors and life lessons about sharing and caring. The books we read to her are a bit better, but even the best books for little kids, like “George and Martha” and “Frog and Toad”, have a soporific effect on me eventually. When she’s not looking at books or watching TV, my daughter is usually engaging intensely in imaginative play, setting up dolls and little figurines in all the life scenarios she’s familiar with, like going for walks and having friends over, reading their own books and watching their own imaginary TV shows. I love this little girl to pieces, and I also sometimes find myself twiddling my thumbs, wasting time on my phone, and even snapping at her occasionally because I just don’t want to play with her or read to her anymore. I find that in long days with a toddler, sometimes my own sense of agency and dignity is eclipsed by my child’s needs and by all the limits that she puts on my life.

Caring for children is my calling right now, and like any calling, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Many people go to jobs where they do things they don’t want to do and watch the clock so they can punch out and do things they are actually interested in after work. And even when we find a job or vocation that we love, there are days and situations where we feel bored, overwhelmed, and lacking any sense that we have choices or control.

What I want to emphasize today is that it’s okay—it’s actually normal—if we feel uncomfortable, bored, or suffocated by what we are called to do, and we don’t need to be ashamed by our frustrations and by the coping mechanisms we employ to face those feelings. In the book of Luke, we meet Mary, Jesus’ mother, a young woman who is engaged to be married. As the narrative goes, the angel Gabriel appears very suddenly to Mary in her hometown of Nazareth one day, announcing that she will become pregnant supernaturally and will give birth to the son of God. This passage is commonly called “The Annunciation.”

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 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. 36 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. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38  -Luke 1:26-37, NRSV

This is a rich passage full of fascinating detail, and over the centuries, people have written pages and pages of both devotional and scholarly literature about it. Today I want to zero in on verse 29. Here it is in six different New Testament translations:

But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. (New Revised Standard Version)

She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. (The Message)

Mary was very upset because of his words. She wondered what kind of greeting this could be. (New International Reader’s Version)

But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. (English Standard Version)

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. (New Living Translation)

She was thoroughly troubled by what he said, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this could be. (Mounce Reverse Interlinear New Testament)

Mary’s famous “yes to God” in the book of Luke has become immortalized as an example of accepting God’s call with humility and submission. And that makes sense, because the majority of Luke’s writing here is about Mary’s willing embrace of the call to be the mother of God, and her great joy in being chosen to carry Jesus. But let’s not forget what Mary’s initial response to the angel Gabriel was: perplexed, suspicious of his motives, shaken, upset, troubled, confused, and disturbed. I point this out not to criticize Mary but to emphasize that God asks all of us to do difficult things, and even someone who is highly favored by the Lord, summoned to a role so exquisite and vital, initially responds to her call with apprehension and angst.

We do see a quick turnaround in Scripture as Mary jumps from suspicion and confusion to magnifying the Lord with her cousin Elizabeth a few verses later. But in real time, there was a considerable gap between the Annunciation and the Magnificat, as it is about a ninety mile trip from Nazareth to “the hill country of Judea”, where Elizabeth lived. Such a trip would have required significant preparation, especially as the travel alone probably took about two weeks, and then Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months. Maybe trip-planning distracted Mary from dwelling on the angelic announcement that she would bear God’s son. But my guess is that even as Mary packed and arranged her trip to see her cousin, she was coping with the stress of the news she had received.

When I am struggling with feeling out of control, or finding it hard to embrace my circumstances, I often stress-eat my favorite candy bars: Take Five and Snickers. Also, doing something where I have immediate control over the outcome helps me to feel calm and take the next step in a difficult situation. These days, my favorite coping mechanisms are either cutting my hair or spray painting a piece of furniture. A friend recently suggested I begin dyeing my hair to combine those two endeavors.

What do you think Mary did as she absorbed her special, overwhelming news? Perhaps stress-ate hummus, or binge-watched reality TV about moneychangers and Pharisees? Definitely had some awkward conversations with Joseph about their future, and then maybe verbally processed it all with her girlfriends. Or if she was too tired from all the communication with melodramatic angels and embarrassed fiancés, maybe she just sat by herself with a big bowl of olives and a plate of baklava and let her favorite comfort foods do their magic—eating as much as she could tolerate with the morning sickness she probably had from her pregnancy.

Scripture doesn’t tell us how Mary spent those days between the Annunciation and her beautiful Magnificat, where she seems fully on board with Operation Most Famous Woman in Human History. Her singular chorus of praise echoes through time and eternity:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-55, ESV)

Mary’s calling was to accept the blessing and burden of becoming pregnant in an unheard of way with an extraordinary child: to be the mother of the Savior of the world. While I’d like to think that my toddler is extraordinary, she’s really just your run-of-the-mill awesome three-year-old who is sweet and surly, snuggly and sneaky all at once. My calling right now is to raise my children even when the days are long with my toddler and my older kids present their own challenges. I’m grateful for this calling, but it can be really hard. That Mary was able to say yes to God in the midst of feeling uncertain and frustrated helps me do the same. I hope it helps you too.

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