The Church begins with the Yes of the Virgin of Nazareth
—Hans von Balthasar (1905-1988)
I’ve spent a good part of this Advent season reflecting on Mary and her role in the enfleshment of God. One aspect that I keep circling back to is that when Mary said “yes” to God’s request/invitation for her, she accepted both the suffering and the blessing of her future.
God’s messenger shows up, and after encouraging her not to be afraid, tells her that God will “come upon” and overshadow her and impregnate her with God’s Son, who will reign over a never-ending kingdom. If that’s not incredible enough, I think the most radical part of the entire story is that Mary speaks. She is not silent, she doesn’t passively receive the news. Rather, Mary says “Yes.” She hears what God hopes for, then chooses to participate with God: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” [And what would the whole Incarnation look like if she'd declined??]
I can imagine some of what Mary may have expected with her “yes.” She probably knew that pregnancy would end with childbirth—an excruciatingly bloody and painful experience, she’d been told by other women (and maybe even assisted). She probably knew, as women do, that there is great joy in having your newborn tucked in your arms, suckling your breast. Women know both these things, and Mary knew to expect the suffering and blessing of bearing a child.
But I doubt she realized that her “yes” would entail so much more—an abundance of both suffering and blessing. There’s a bit of foreshadowing for sure… Aunt Elizabeth shouts out a blessing on Mary, and Mary herself sings a prophetic line that recognizes the lauding of future ages. Likewise, ancient Simeon predicts Mary’s great suffering—“a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
For Mary, suffering and blessing are two sides of saying “YES” to God.
What suffering to flee and find refuge in a foreign land, to escape with your son the massacre of infants
What blessing to celebrate a wedding ceremony with your son
What suffering to have a son who remains single… for who will carry on your name and memory, care for you in your old age?
What blessing to see your son stand up in a synagogue and read the words of a prophet
What suffering to see your son not live up to your people’s expectations of him
What blessing to see your son stop for a sick woman, see her, and heal her
What suffering to join the crowd following him, only to be ignored in favor of strangers
What blessing to see the compassion your son has for the hungry and hurting
What suffering to stand beneath a torture device and watch the people and state murder your son, to watch your own child—flesh and blood—suffer and suffer and…die. A mother’s grief is like none other.
What suffering to hear him give you into the care of another… he’s gone.
What suffering to collect the ingredients that will prepare the body of your son for burial
What blessing to arrive at his tomb and be told by a messenger (is it the same one??) that your son is alive again, raised from the dead
What blessing to see your dead son alive again, to hear his voice
What suffering to say goodbye to your son, as he returns to his father
What blessing to be, a second time, overshadowed by the power of God, and impregnated with God together with your new family
In what ways are suffering and blessing two sides of saying “Yes” to God for us, too?