My oldest two children came into our family as a foster-to-adopt placement. We were told that their biological dad was not in the picture and mom would not be able to get custody. They were foster children that would be available for adoption soon. James was three and a half. Jasmine had just turned two. We welcomed them into our family and took them into our hearts. They quickly became our children.
Then, about a year later, the judge sent them back to live with their biological dad. This is the point in my life when I heard the voice of God more clearly than I ever had before–or since. God told me: “James and Jasmine will be all right.” And I leaned into the promise that my children would be all right, even though I didn’t know exactly what that meant.
A few agonizing months later, they came back to us. At the time I thought, “Yes. The promise was true. They are all right.”
But as they grew, became teenagers, and now young adults, I have clung to that promise more than I did when they were away from us. Through screaming fights and silent treatments. Through school troubles and friend troubles. Through counseling sessions and illness. Through new apartments and new jobs and pregnancies. I still need to lean into the promise: “James and Jasmine will be all right.”
I imagine Mary, hearing those words from God in the midst of her own heart-wrenching moment: “Do not be afraid.” She must have clung desperately to this command/promise from God as her hands shook and her heart pounded in the angel’s presence.
“Do not be afraid.” Surely it is this promise that gets her from “How shall this be?” to “I am the Lord’s servant.” And it may be this promise that gets her through the morning sickness and the back aches; through the scornful glances in the marketplace, the shut doors, the guarded whispers, the turned backs.
“Do not be afraid.” I imagine these words carried her through the beginning contractions; through the frantic search for some place–any place–to stay for the night; through the intensifying labor pains to the birth of the bloody, squalling baby.
But I am beginning to understand that the angel’s words were not just for the annunciation, the pregnancy, the birth. I have a feeling Mary grabbed at these words all through her life; forced her ears to again hear the voice; coerced her heart to listen and believe: “Do not be afraid.”
- When her husband led her and the baby away from home and into Egypt.
- When Simeon said, “A sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
- When she was a day’s journey away from Jerusalem and suddenly realized that Jesus was not with them.
- When her son spoke harshly to her in front of his new-found audience.
- When she felt the tension in the festival air and saw her son riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, the people waving branches and placing their coats on the ground.
- When she heard, “This is my body. This is my blood.”
- When she saw her body, her blood–her son–hanging on a cross. Dead at the hands of Roman officials.
How often did Gabrielle’s words echo in Mary’s memory: “Do not be afraid”?
How deeply do we need those same words during these weeks of Advent waiting?