Renaissance artists paint the Annunciation as a heavenly scene; but there’s a very human underside to Mary’s plea, “How can this be?”
A poor, unmarried woman finds herself pregnant. The woman is fearful at first. The boyfriend wavers before stepping up. The child is born in a shed.
Why didn’t God send Gabriel to Mary after she and Joseph were happily married, settled down, with a nursery painted and ready?
I think it’s so that we can see that the Incarnation, while miraculous, was also messy in the way that only human life can be messy. For a moment, we can see that even the Blessed Mother herself is “greatly troubled,” no doubt experiencing the intense emotions of an unplanned pregnancy.
Should we be surprised that God became man in a messy situation? Not any more surprised than learning that Mary’s baby grows up to be tortured and publicly executed.
The story of Jesus is not a feel-good fairy tale. It’s a tense drama that resonates with anyone who has experienced the pain of real life. The Annunciation is a beautiful moment precisely because of Mary’s supernatural graciousness during a confusing, fear-filled encounter.
We should take solace in the fact that Jesus re-wrote the history of messy beginnings. There’s a reason His own life was filled with poverty and pain from beginning to end. It was so that we could relate: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who has been similarly tested in every way, but without sin” (Romans 4:15).
The mystery of the Incarnation is that our own imperfect stories, as messy as they are, can intertwine with His and, miracle of miracles, be made perfect through his grace. The opening prayer in today’s Mass expresses it best: “May we who confess our Redeemer to be God and man merit to become partakers in his divine nature.”
Sam Alzheimer is the founder of Vianney Vocations, an organization that promotes the priesthood.