A Mother’s Perspective on the Annunciation
“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.”(Luke 1:38)
I was a lowly, 23-year-old graduate student when I found out I was expecting my first child. My husband was months away from entering seminary. We were young, dumb and barely making ends meet week to week. I sometimes joke now that our beautiful eldest daughter was born about two years premature, but I didn’t laugh then. Standing in the tiny bathroom of our 600-square-foot rental, I cried. It was all so much, so fast.
How can this be? I thought (already a hormone-drenched mess of emotions). How can God possibly think that we’re ready for this? My husband, smiling broadly, held me until the sobs subsided, and together we began making plans to welcome our little one.
And then, the next day, I got up, drove to campus, attended class, graded papers, went shopping, made dinner, watched TV, tidied up, did my homework and went to bed — just like always.
Inside, everything had changed. Outside, nothing had. A miracle was happening, and nobody knew it but my husband and me.
‘Greetings, O favored one’
I can’t help recalling those surreal early days of pregnancy whenever I read the text from Luke 1 that corresponds to the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’” (Luke1:26–28).
I wonder what was going through Mary’s mind while the angel spoke to her. She was “troubled,” yes, and humbly receptive to the word. But did she smile? Did she cry? Was she overwhelmed and terrified by what lay ahead? Overjoyed to bring new life — and what life! — into the world? A little relieved, perhaps, to have a little time alone with her secret, before her belly would blossom and reveal her condition to all around her?
I wonder, too, what life was like for her just after the angel departed. The truth of what had just happened — the eternal Son of God becoming incarnate as a human embryo — would one day turn the world upside down. But not now. Not yet. In that moment, no one else on earth yet knew what was happening. Even her fiancé was entirely in the dark.
In heaven, the news was no doubt ringing off the walls: “It’s go time! The Son of Man has descended. The Lord is working salvation with His mighty arm!” But on earth, things were whisper-quiet. Until John, that great prenatal prophet, bore witness to Christ’s presence with his intrauterine acrobatics, no one knew but Mary herself. She rose and slept, ate and drank, worked and rested, then “arose and went with haste into the hill country” to see her cousin (Luke 1:39), all while the Savior of the universe grew silently within her.
Pondering Mary’s pregnancy makes me think back on my own and wonder: Did Mary have morning sickness? Ligament pain? Fatigue? Did she wake up one day and notice that everything tasted strangely like metal? Did her back ache? Did her feet swell? Did her gums bleed? Did she ever muse (as so many of us have) about whether her baby was currently closer to the size of a kumquat or a fig?
Though Scripture does not say so, I like to think she experienced all these familiar hallmarks of pregnancy and more. Why wouldn’t she? She was the fully human mother of a fully human baby. Like every other child of Adam and Eve — like Mary, like Joseph, like you, like me — our blessed Lord and Savior can sing with full voice the words of Psalm 139:
For you formed my inward parts;(Psalm 139:13–16)
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
We confess this truth boldly in our creeds: “I believe … in one Lord Jesus Christ … who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man” (Lutheran Service Book, p. 191).
Celebrating ‘God with us’
From the moment the angel spoke the Word and Mary received it, Christ “was made man.” From the Annunciation onward, “God with us” has been with us.
Given all this, I sometimes wonder why the Feast of the Annunciation doesn’t get any more attention on our church calendars. Could our relative disinterest in the Annunciation be part of a larger, lingering backlash against the veneration of Mary in the Roman Catholic Church? Could it be that the noise of Christmas — with all those holly jolly carols and ringing sleighbells — has drowned out every other commemoration of Christ’s Incarnation? Is it that we don’t take seriously enough the prenatal life of the Savior? (Surely not! Medieval Christians [who generally believed that life did not begin until a baby’s “quickening” — when the first kicks are felt at around five months] placed such a heavy emphasis on the Annunciation that in many parts of Europe, New Year’s Day was celebrated annually on March 25. Certainly, with our advanced understanding of prenatal science, we have no cause to be less enthusiastic than they were.) Could it simply be that the Annunciation falls smack dab in the middle of Lent, when our faces are firmly set toward Jerusalem, not Nazareth?
Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that we don’t tend to make much of the Annunciation.
Perhaps, though, as pro-life, creed-confessing Lutherans, we should.
My life as a mother began not in a delivery room, but in a bathroom. Mary’s life as a mother began not in Bethlehem, but in Nazareth. It was there that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) — there that Jesus’ long road to the cross began.
That, surely, is worth commemorating.