The Annunciation, the name given to the moment when an angel appeared to Mary to announce the birth of the Savior is one of the most popular themes in religious art. Nearly every well-known artist has attempted their own interpretation of this famous story.
The moment which is captured by the artist is usually either when the angel appears and Mary is filled with apprehension, or when she quietly and humbly accepts the call to be a part of something miraculous. This painting by Gabriel Rossetti is an example of the first. It was a controversial painting in its day, as it did not partake of the typical religious symbolism and pious uplifting tone. Rather, we see a frightened young woman who shrinks back from the heavenly visitor.
Luke's Gospel tells us that Mary was "troubled" by the angelic message, which is not at all surprising is it? She was a young, unmarried woman who was being asked to carry the stigma of a pregnancy outside marriage. Who was going to believe her story? Even the man whom she loved was tempted to break their relationship to avoid the embarrassment. And did she feel worthy of such a high calling or such an exalted task--becoming the mother of God's own Son? Little wonder that she was troubled, and probably confused, and likely feeling a degree of confusion and disbelief.
As with Mary, God has a way of 'troubling" our lives. He refuses to just let things be and let us exist safely within our comfort zone. Instead, He regularly offers us something more--something bigger and better, but new and unfamiliar. And perhaps frightening. He is not interested in protecting the status quo in our lives, but asks us to step out and embrace something higher. If we are to follow His lead we must be prepared to be surprised and discomforted.
For God's call to us is similar to His call to Mary. He comes to offer us the opportunity to accomplish the greatest thing that can be done by a human being--that Christ might be born again into the world through you and me. The carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem" invokes this request: "Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today." Like Mary, we are called to birth Jesus into our this world. And the joy of birth of any kind is preceeded by pain and struggle...and usually fear.
In the face of that fear, the angel would speak to us what he spoke to Mary: "Do not be afraid."
The God we worship is not a God who comes to us on the basis of fear, but on the basis of a promise. The heavenly messenger tells Mary what he would tell us: "You are highly favored. The Lord is with you." The God who troubles us in our contentment and calls us to a different way of life, is the God who does not leave us alone. He is with us in the pain, the struggle, the questioning, the doubting, the confusion, and the fear.