Date: Sunday, December 24, 2017
Before the printing press and literacy when many people were unable to read and write, town criers made announcements. A “bellman” made an announcement by calling for silence: “Hear ye! Hear ye!” In England town criers were protected by law as they sometimes brought bad news like an increase in taxes. The bellman was under the protection of the monarch. Harming the town crier was considered treason. (This cut down on fake news.)
In the Bible God communicates to us through prophets and, on special occasion, by sending an angel or messenger. Today we listen to the announcement of the Angel Gabriel to Mary. “Hail full of grace! The Lord is with you!” Mary is greatly troubled and ponders the angelic greeting. Gabriel calms Mary’s fear. And then says not “Hear ye! Hear ye!” but quietly and personally to Mary: “Behold.” “Behold” in the Bible means “to see, to view, to face, to observe fully.” “Behold” is an invitation “to contemplate.”
There are moments when we are jolted by an announcement. “You are going to be a father.” “We found something suspicious on the scan.” “There is a shadow on the mammogram.” “We’re downsizing…” I had lunch this week with a middle age man, my former altar boy, who recently was asked to come to a meeting. He and another coworker from the office sat down in a room with the supervisor and human resource director to be told that they were being “laid off.” Strangely, good news can open up uncertainty and confusion. Bad news, while devastating, has potential for life-transforming changes. It depends on how we receive the news.
Mary listens. She is troubled and afraid. She asks a critical question: “How can this be?” She ponders the meaning: “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” And then Mary herself says: “Behold.” “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Today, on the 4th Sunday of Advent just before Christmas, we pause to listen to the “Annunciation” to Mary in the Gospel according to St. Luke and wonder what God is asking or will ask of us. Life unfolds in complexity but it is good to know we are not alone. God is with us. We are part of God’s plan.