Picture an image of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Now picture her pregnant.
Imagine coming across that image on your Facebook or Instagram feed. You see a young woman bathed in the warm glow of a photo filter, eyes downcast, cradling her round baby belly. Underneath the image are the words, “Coming this December … a baby boy named Emmanuel! He will come to rule the nations! #blessed #miracle #SonofGod.”
Maybe that daydream gave you pause. Maybe it horrified you slightly to think about Mary on your newsfeed. Maybe it made you roll your eyes. Maybe you laughed a little.
Perhaps these reactions are born out of the reality that we know this would never happen, even if the angel Gabriel had just appeared to Mary only nine months ago.
Yet on March 25, 2019, the feast of the Annunciation, we heard how the angel Gabriel visited Mary to share the good news of the miraculous conception of her son. We heard Mary listen patiently and unselfishly agree to do the Lord’s will.
If you’re anything like me, you reflected on Mary’s willingness to do what God asked of her, even though it was slightly insane. Perhaps you spent time thinking about whether, in her shoes, you would have been so brave.
It not only took great courage but also incalculable patience to accept what the angel Gabriel had told her. Mary was being asked to do an incredible service for God — for us all — with little explanation.
We continue to contemplate the great mystery of Christ’s conception and birth today. Imagine how Mary felt in the moment!
And, if you’re anything like me, after thinking about all of that on the Annunciation, you promptly forgot about the fact that Mary was agreeing to be pregnant.
And not just pregnant, pregnant out of wedlock with no ordinary explanation for others of how she came to be so.
For months, Mary has been silent. Patient. All this time carrying the Son of God without the fanfare of Facebook announcements, gender reveals and baby showers we’ve come to expect in our society today.
On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, we hear the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit again. Although it is a feast to celebrate the mystery of Mary’s birth without original sin, the Gospel instead serves as a reminder that while we are anxiously awaiting the anniversary of the birth of Christ, Mary had to be pregnant for that to happen.
As a relatively new mom myself, I’m not very far removed from the intense anticipation that comes from expecting your first child. There’s excitement around setting up a nursery and experiencing the generosity of friends and family who want to contribute to your little one. The excitement level turned up tenfold for our family because our son was the first grandchild on my husband’s side.
It’s hard to remain patient amid the chaos and hubbub. While I never really minded being pregnant and secretly enjoyed the extra attention and love I received, I could not wait to hold my baby.
From the moment I found out I was expecting, I couldn’t wait to feel my baby’s first movements. Every kick, roll over or hiccup brought me such joy. That anticipation only grew more intense as my due date came and went, and I struggled through a 28-hour labor, 10 days late.
I was proud of myself for waiting to find out the gender of my baby. My husband and I kept our name choices a secret. I thought that those things were somehow great acts of patience, in addition to “patiently” waiting 10 days past due. In some small ways, they were. But it was nothing compared to what Mary did.
There’s an easy scientific explanation for how my son came to be. I was married when I got pregnant. My family was overjoyed at our news. I could see pictures of my son every few weeks, catching glimpses of his features to help my daydreams about what my baby might look like. I can’t imagine how much longer those nine months would have felt without that.
Aside from Elizabeth’s joy and Joseph’s decision to remain betrothed, we know nothing else of how Mary was received during her pregnancy. We know nothing of how she felt.
What was it like for Mary to feel the baby Jesus kick for the first time in her womb? Did she have doubts that what the angel told her was true?
In our truncated version of events in the Advent season, we hear of Mary becoming pregnant, traveling to see her kinswoman Elizabeth and finally journeying to Bethlehem with Joseph to give birth in a barn.
While as a church community we grapple with the mystery of Christ’s conception a couple of times a year, Mary had to think about it every day for nine months as she awaited the birth of a baby an angel told her would come.
Aside from her courage, Mary’s patience is what I will be reflecting on this Advent season.
– – –
(Jones is a freelance writer.)