It is interesting that biblical women who found favor with God ended up giving birth to sons despite their age or previous inability to conceive -- Sarah (Isaac), Rebecca (Esau and Jacob), Rachel (Joseph and Benjamin), Hannah (Samuel), Manoah's wife (Samson), and Elizabeth (John the Baptist) are perhaps the best-known examples. Given the cultural emphasis on fertility and the expectation that a son would care for his parents in their old age, we can see why these women felt grief and shame until they experienced motherhood. But their blessing went beyond personal fulfillment; the formula goes like this:
A barren woman grieves and suffers humiliation >
Finds favor with God >
Receives a Divine promise >
Gives birth to a son >
The son grows up to be a leader of his people, a "savior figure."
Though Mary is not barren, she falls into the same pattern as her predecessors, finding favor with God, receiving an angelic visitation, and ultimately giving birth to the Child Jesus. The take-away in terms of "Divine Fertility" -- and this goes beyond conceiving males!-- is finding favor with God. Now, I'm not implying that God has favorites or that having children is an indication of being a decent human being; rather, if we define "Divine Fertility as the means by which God's Will is done, then pleasing God is part of the equation. "Finding favor" = delighting our Maker. As we move into the last days of Advent,
may each of us focus on delighting God, so that we, too, can give birth to the Holy, for the sake of the suffering world.
The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Fear is the antithesis of Love, and so it is Fear, perhaps, that is the root of all evil, not money. Fear keeps us small when God calls us to greatness. It stops us from following our passions and makes us seek security instead, convincing us that staying home is preferable to exploring the world and that maintaining the status quo is a better option than risk-taking. Fear stifles our voices so they remain unheard; it tempts us to be invisible when God is calling us to stand up and be counted. Instead, it prevents us from "showing up" and immobilizes us. It makes us weigh the cost of an opportunity before we can even assess the benefits, and, once the opportunity is gone, we find ourselves envying those who dared say "YES!" Fear makes us flee from the stranger, shun those who are different from ourselves, and project our worst instincts onto "enemies," seen and unseen. Fear dulls our conscience, saps our energy, blocks our creativity, and limits our imagination; it causes us to cling to past hurts, avoid the present moment and dread what lies ahead. In short, Fear dehumanizes us, turning us away from God's embrace, reducing us to "dry bones" incapable of gratitude, empathy, forgiveness, generosity, curiosity, resilience, hope, trust, and, of course, Love.
The Annunciation represents the triumph of Love over Fear, of Good over Evil. Mary's unconditional "Yes!" is a fearless response to all that God asks of her. She withholds nothing, though her "Yes!" could cost her everything -- her reputation, relationship, family life, security, means of survival, and even life itself. "Yes!" is a word of trust, a word of hope, a word that springs from a deep, sustaining spirituality, not from mere religious conformity. "Yes!" signifies the willingness to listen to God and respond, rather than allowing the Ego to take control and demand terms. Mary could have asked for a palace, an escort of armed guards, a golden throne, an entourage of servants... Instead, her only desire is to please the Holy One and to allow the greatness of God to raise her up; in this way, she becomes "God's House," a holy dwelling place for the Most High. And isn't this the "Yes!" that God desires from all humanity?
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