Notice the angel Gabriel’s first word to Mary: “Rejoice.” The baby in Elizabeth’s womb as she greets Mary “leaps for joy.” Let’s remember that tone this week, which can be one of the most hectic in the year. The angel says, “rejoice.” Not “spend. Clean. Cook. Decorate. Shop. Bake. Wrap. Shop again. Create the perfect holiday ambiance. Work to exhaustion. Make everyone in the family sublimely happy.”
In his Rule, St. Benedict says, “each day has reasons for joy.” Maybe at this time of year, they are more obvious. The shared belief of Christians is that Jesus has become one with humans, indeed has pitched his tent within us. None of us deserves this, so we celebrate God’s lavish abandon, the pure gratuity of God’s gift.
If this seems a tall order, if we’re too tired or depressed to rejoice, we can take heart from the ambiguity of the feast. Mary’s reaction to the angel is to be “much perplexed.” Indeed, the whole experience is for her a two-edged sword: joy tempered by natural, human fear.
In Christian liturgies this week, we’ll hear two songs of praise, Mary’s “Magnificat” and Zechariah’s “Canticle.” Hers somehow overcomes the doubt and fear she must have felt. His breaks a long silence, welcomes new possibility, and expresses a hard-won trust in God—and his wife. As we shop, bake, decorate, etc. this week, may our mantra be one of gratitude and praise: “Let me do it all with thanks.”