I thought I was alone in the church on a late afternoon until a small muffled sob drew me out of my own thoughts. I searched to see who occupied the church with me and I noticed her through the fading light. I could not see her clearly but she was in the rear pew, her head leaning against the back of the pew in front of her. Her crying intensified as she sat alone in her sorrow. I sat unmoving and wondered if I should go to her and offer her something or should I leave her alone in her own obvious state of abandonment and sorrow.
I knew I could not leave her, so I went to her and she eagerly welcomed me to sit with her. As we sat she began to pour out her heart and it was clear she had doubts that God cared about her. What had happened to her shook her faith and she needed to know if God not only cared but if God existed.
I asked her if she believed God cared for her before this happened to her. She quietly responded yes, but now she was not sure. I asked her in spite of her pain if God did exist what he could do to comfort her. She said she wanted to believe that God cared but why didn’t he answer when she needed him. We talked for a long time about God and we both recalled moments when he was present to us and the times when God seems to have forgotten us.
We talked about some scripture passages, those that tell us of his faithfulness. How in his own words he says he will never abandon us nor forsake us; how God promised us that in the midst of our pain he will strengthen us. We talked about God’s invitation to let him bear the heavy load and how he will give us rest. We talked as the afternoon turned into night and ultimately she said she did believe in God but at that moment she needed more than her belief; she needed God to reassure her.
We talked about how by looking at the circumstance that affect our lives we can come to the conclusion that God is very, very far away. It is at those times when we seem to be facing the consequences of life all by ourselves that we really need God to be present. We talked about one passage from the gospel we heard today – “Blessed are you who believed what was told to you.” That passage was the key for her to understanding how she could find peace by standing firm in her faith in God.
Strange word belief, what is it we believe? Is our belief based on what we have been told by others or is it based on our own experience of God? The truth is most of us never moved beyond a childlike faith of acceptance to become ardent believers in what has been promised to us.
Mary in today’s gospel story is one example of that kind of faith. She certainly had a reason to doubt the reality that the Holy Spirit could overshadow her and she would conceive a son. Mary would have known that the Holy Spirit could transform timid, uncertain believers into powerful instruments of God’s power; but the scriptures Mary would have heard and read never prepared her to believe that the Holy Spirit overshadowing her would cause her to conceive.
Yet she believed what the angel said in spite of what her mind told her about it being impossible. The scripture prophecies were explicit in that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Mary would have known of those prophecies and she believed because her experience of God was the foundation of her ability to trust God would not abandon her.
We know that she was still conflicted and confused but she believed and said yes. In 2006 there was a movie titled “The Nativity Story” which realistically portrays the struggles by Mary with the consequences of saying yes. The movie also realistically portrays the struggles of her family and Joseph with her becoming pregnant. We 2000 years later are in awe of Mary’s faith because her belief never wavered, while ours vacillates when circumstances beat us down as they did for that woman that afternoon.
What is it that you believe about God? Do you believe God when he says that we are more than conquerors? Do you believe him when he says “…that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).
Do you believe this — “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners? Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost (sinner), Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life” (1Tim.1:16).
Do you believe that the child Mary bore is the Christ and that he came to reconcile us to the Father? This infant whose birth we will celebrate is not some baby we can get all gushy about and then go on living as we did before. No this is Christ who took on our humanity so he could die in order for us to know beyond a doubt that God’s mercy has no limits.
If you believe these things than ask the Holy Spirit to overshadow you so you can move from doubt to certainty allowing you to have a Mary kind of belief in the promises of God.