One reaction to Jesus mentioned fairly often in the gospels is astonishment. He so often breaks the mold of How the Messiah Ought to Be. He certainly disrupted Mary’s routine—even before he was born. Even now in the middle east, women pregnant before marriage are stoned to death. She faced that possibility—and certain shame. All surprises aren’t pleasant: some have the potential for disaster.
But the angel reassures Mary, whose natural response is shock. As Fran Ferder writes in ENTER THE STORY: “A life of fear is not what God has in mind for Mary, or for any of us…Mary and God change her tragedy into a love story of epic proportions. But not right away.” (28, 31)
The last phrase is significant. The vision Isaiah holds up throughout Advent is one of dead stumps flowering, harmony among enemies. If we look at the world scene today, we see how such change comes in slow increments. And yet as Habbukah reminds us “the vision will surely come…”
We are treated to brief glimpses of the lion and lamb resting together: Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ brings warring gang members to co-operate in his Los Angeles Homeboy Industries. Those who once fired bullets at each other now fire text messages. Such dramatic change can happen on a large scale, or when estranged family members reconcile, or we welcome less comfortable parts of ourselves. The lion doesn’t sprout fur or the lamb roar: each animal remains itself, distinct, yet not drowning out the other.
Commenting on the “peaceable kingdom” theme of Advent, a woman who’d watched the pecking order of lions at their watering hole in Africa observed: “the larger ones definitely go first. But once the lion is satisfied, he won’t attack randomly.” St. Francis of Assisi knew this too. When the citizens of Gubbio were terrified by a marauding wolf, he advised: feed the wolf. So too for our inner hungers: if they are satisfied, we can begin the long, slow process of disarming the heart.
TO BE CONTINUED…