Today we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, the moment when God sends an angel to a young, unknown, unimportant Jewish woman to announce that she will bear the Savior. And there is much to consider, much to celebrate, much to remember about that event. We use this date because, down the centuries, if we set Jesus’ birthday as December 25, then his conception, when the Holy Spirit would “come upon” Mary and she would conceive the Son of God, is today.
Mary’s response is undoubtedly brave: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” That degree of faithfulness, of unwavering trust, deserves consideration. Her pondering of all these things, after the shepherds come to visit the newborn Son of God, is worth our thought and reflection as well. I often think I would do well to spend more time pondering a variety of things in my heart before speaking or acting. Mary’s Song of Praise in Luke 2:46-55, also known as the Magnificat, is certainly worth pondering in our hearts.
But today, as we enter our third year of pandemic parenting, that’s where my heart is—on Mary and God, as parents. Let me be clear, I mean no disrespect to Joseph. I know what it is to be fully, open-heartedly present to children not of my conception. To show up to lead the donkey to Bethlehem, to find a place for the child to be born, to heed the dream and flee with your family to keep them safe. Okay not literally those exact things, but everyone who has parented any child understands my meaning. So, thank you, Saint Joseph, for all the things.
Why do bad things happen if God is real? If God is truly a loving, good God, why does God let bad things happen to good people?
Theodicy is ‘the defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil’ (Mirriam-Webster). I’ve worked with children and youth my entire adult life. I’ve raised and nurtured dozens of children into adulthood, with two boys still in progress. And every single one of these young people have asked their version of the above questions. If God really loves us, why does God let us suffer? Having walked through the past two years of extreme parenting, where every single decision has sometimes felt like – and potentially been – a matter of life and death, I’m finding it helpful to consider God as a ‘good parent.’
Once there was a family. The parents loved their children more than life itself, more than all the stars in the sky, more than words could say. They protected them in every way they could, keeping sharp tools out of reach, buckling them into their car seats for even the shortest rides, and using gentle kind words to teach them. They never wanted their children to be damaged in mind, body, or soul. But the children wanted to explore the world. Their very nature was to seek new experiences, to wander further from their parents’ protective embrace as they grew, and to meet and form relationships with others. Learning to walk, the children sometimes fell and cut and bruised themselves. Later, at school, the children made friends and the friends gave them joy. Until someone said something cruel or hurtful, and the children came home in pain. As they grew and explored, life handed them an array of experiences, some filled with joy, some filled with pain, either physical or emotional or both. The parents watched, and felt every joy, and every pain, alongside the children. One day when the oldest child came home talking about college, their hearts fell.
“If she goes to college, how will we protect her?” they asked themselves.
“If we don’t allow her to go to college,” they thought, “we can keep her safer.”
When the parents went to tell the child that she could not go to college, she greeted them with eyes full of hope and excitement, and the parents grew speechless.
“If we don’t allow her to go, what will she miss?” they wondered.
“If we keep her at home, how will she grow into her brightest self?” they questioned.
So, Mary said yes to a lifetime of loving and worrying and praying for her child to be safe. Mary showed up when the worst happened. Mary even meddled at the wedding in Cana, pushing her child to share his gift with their friends.
How can a loving God allow us to suffer, and how can a good God allow evil to exist? Maybe because God knows, like any good parent, that the worst damage, in the end, would be to hide us from the world, and the world from us.
But God is always there, ready to answer when we reach out, and maybe that’s what Mary understood when she said yes.