One of my favorite things about the early Renaissance paintings is their use of birds. Here the angel Gabriel is about to have a chat with Mary about the whole upcoming manger situation. It’s a bright sunny day with birds chirping and Mary off-image in a corset and busy knitting or something equally preposterous.
Don’t you wonder why the church so likes to romanticize biblical images? It was dark of night and Mary was a small, terrified girl. Who knows if this is what Gabriel looked like but I doubt it. I think he looked more like Glenn Close or perhaps Benedict Cumberbatch.
Courage is that on which we look back. Courage like Mary’s – to choose to accept an invitation from God to humiliation, shame, misjudgment – must have taken great faith. Sure it turned out ok. Even glorious, for Mary. She is the most pictured woman after Princess Diana and perhaps Cher. But in the moment of the visit from Gabriel, Mary must have known there would be whispers in the village. The other women would have, you know, done the math.
As we wait for Jesus to arrive in our calendar, don’t you wonder what God will ask of you? What whispers will be murmured of you? What shame will be brought on you for the gospel? What angel will arrive with what seemingly impossible request?
I wonder if there were birds singing when Gabriel asked his question? Might courage be a matter of listening for the singing birds beneath and around those pesky questions God asks?