|The Angel; Burne-Jones|
I used to assign my adult art students the task of gathering and comparing five different Annunciation images by different artists from different periods of art. While our focus was primarily on art themes, we discovered that this assignment had wonderful spiritual applications and encouraged our meditation on this amazing story from scripture.
Most images illustrating the Annunciation show a quiet demure Mary in a room with the angel Gabriel kneeling before her.
An unusual Annunciation image by African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), portrays Gabriel as a ray of light, a brilliant device which encourages us to focus on Mary’s expression rather than a beautiful angel with gorgeous feathers. In rendering Gabriel as an intense shaft of light Tanner echoes Psalm 104:4 “Who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire.”
According to the scripture, Gabriel comes to Mary and says, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!”
|Henry Ossawa Tanner "Annunciation" Oil on canvas|
Tanner paints Mary sitting up on her bed wrapped in her robes, tense with fear, her hands nervously clasped together. She's looking both skeptically and fearfully up at her angelic visitor.
I can certainly identify with this Mary. She is very human. If a blazing shaft of light from heaven came into my bedroom at who knows what hour I would be afraid too!
Gabriel tells Mary that she is highly favored of God and has been chosen to bear God’s Son, the Messiah. (All Israel had been waiting for the Messiah to appear to deliver them from their oppressors.)
Then Mary asked the obvious question, “How can this happen, since I have not had relations with a man?”
After the angel explained God’s plan to her, Mary simply says, “Truly I am the Lord’s servant. Let everything you have said happen to me.” Then the angel left her.”
I am amazed by Mary’s faith! When God spoke to Moses from a burning bush and asked him to deliver His people from bondage in Egypt, it seemed an impossible task to the 80 year old shepherd, just as much as becoming pregnant seemed impossible for a virgin who had "never had relations with a man."
Moses gave God a list of excuses as to why he could not carry out his God given assignment and should choose someone else.
Mary, on the other hand, does not even seem to consider what her obedience to God's plan might cost her!
Had it been me I might have said,
“Do you have any idea what the neighbors will think about me if I say yes to your plan? Not to mention my parents could disown me, and my fiancé will most likely break up with me!”
Mary is simply not ashamed to bear God's Son!
Mary is not afraid of what ...1. Joseph will think or do... if she obeys God. What her parents will think or do...if she obeys God.
3.What her community will think or do...if she obeys God.
Being pregnant outside of marriage in ancient Israel was considered a criminal act and she is sure to appear as someone who has been immoral if she agrees to God’s plan.
Surely No person will believe that “God” fathered her child!
Yet none of this seems to enter into Mary’s mind! She simply trusts God without question.
Mary has the heart and faith of a little child. Could this be one of the reasons why God chose her to bear His Son?
|Mary (Detail, Annunciation) Burne-Jones|
“Oh WOW! I’m going to have a baby! And not just any baby!!! God chose ME of all women to be the MOTHER of His MESSIAH!!! Is this not THE MOST WONDERFUL THING that God could do for me or what!!! I am NOT going to be BARREN!!! (Barrenness was a huge social stigma for women in ancient Israel and when Gabriel mentioned that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth who had been barren for years was now six months pregnant, what thought went through Mary’s heart?) Perhaps, “GOD HAS HEARD MY PRAYERS!!!!! I am NOT going to be a BARREN wife for dear Joseph, and I don’t even have to DO ANYTHING to get this baby!! Oh thank You, dear God!--what an AMAZING PRIVILEGE!!!--I am going to bear THE Messiah that everyone has been waiting for, and who am I that God should even notice me? For I am just plain old me from Nazareth!!! Oh Hallelujah!!!! Thank You God for this gift! I’m Your servant, please do everything to me You said You would!!!”
There are many ways to look at Mary’s response to God and then to consider our own response to the Lord as He asks us to bear His Son and present Him to the world.
Would that we could be as willing and enthusiastic as Mary in bearing Christ our Savior to present Him humbly to others, and see as Mary did, that bearing the very Son of God within our being is an awesome privilege as well as a great responsibility.
God offers us His Son Jesus Christ freely. We don’t have to do anything to get Him; we only have to receive Him into our hearts, even as Mary only had to receive Him into her womb.
Mary was not ashamed to bear God’s Son despite the immediate risk it posed to her life and obvious lifelong consequences it would pose to her reputation. She was not ashamed or afraid of the work it was going to involve to raise God’s Son. She and Joseph were going to have to listen very carefully to God every day and follow His word closely.
In the same way, we must not be ashamed to bear Christ in our world despite the persecution and ridicule it may invite from those who are enemies of the cross and of God. We must not be afraid to stand out from the crowd and say, “I love Jesus and I belong to Him. I will keep His word and do things His way. I will not conform to this world, but be transformed by God’s Spirit as I walk according to God’s will for me.”
Mary was so devoted to God that she believed that if He could miraculously make her pregnant with His Son that He would make everything else work out and keep her safe.
After all, this was His plan, not hers. All she had to do was be willing to obey.
To simply trust God without question, without worrying about what total surrender to His will might cost is the beautiful testimony that Mary leaves us.
No wonder she is considered blessed above all other women...not only for bearing Jesus Christ, our Savior, but for her testimony of faith that inspires us to trust God completely.
|Mary and Baby Jesus|
Heavenly Father, please give me faith like Mary's. Help me to trust You with Your plans for My life, that all will work out according to Your will. May I never be ashamed to bear Your Son in this world as Mary was not ashamed. May I see what a great honor it is to bear Your Son in my heart and so bring You glory by living my life for You. In Jesus holy name. I love You. Amen.
"Humbly Responding To God" Copyright 2013 Suzanne Davis Harden: Unto The Least of These: All Rights Reserved.
Illustration Credits: "Cestello Annunciation" Sandro Botticelli; (Tempera Painting on Panel): Uffizi Gallery, Florence; "The Angel" 1881; (Oil on Panel), by Sir Edward Burne-Jones; Glasgow Art Gallery & Museum; "The Annunciation," by Henry Ossawa Tanner; Oil on canvas; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Detail: Mary Kneeling from "The Annunciation"by Sir Edward Burne-Jones; "Mary & Baby Jesus" Unknown Artist