Mary shows us how acceptance leads to joy

My first pregnancy test

My first pregnancy test was in Santiago in 1988. I had to take a urine sample into the chemist – it was long before the days of home testing pregnancy kits. Then I had to wait around in the shop while the chemist went round the back to do a test. I was in my late twenties and recently married but my husband and I had not planned to have a baby so soon. In fact, I knew that my husband was not at all keen about being a father.

I can still remember that day so well. Eventually the chemist returned and slid a slip of paper across the counter. I turned it over and read the single word on the other side. It said positivo.

I was pregnant.

It was a huge shock. And I believe that it is always a shock to hear that you are pregnant – even if you and your partner have been hoping to have a baby for years.

Teenage pregnancy

But what kind of shock must it be when the pregnancy is not only unplanned but you are in your mid teens? And in a situation where you are not sure whether your partner, family and community will support you?

Thankfully, in the UK today, teenagers who find themselves pregnant can access a lot of support. The stigma of a pregnancy out of marriage and unplanned has reduced enormously in most communities. And most teenagers can count on their families and friends to help them with all the challenges they face.

Mary’s situation 2000 years ago

Not so for Mary two thousand years ago when she found herself pregnant with Jesus.

This was brought home to me when I spent three weeks living in the Holy Land recently among Orthodox Jewish communities. It was interesting to see the very structured moral framework in which these people live. They all seemed very happy – knowing their places and their roles and accepting them. But I could not help wondering how they react to an unmarried teenager who finds herself pregnant.

In Mary’s time, the pregnancy could even have been a death sentence. She might have been accused of adultery which was punishable by stoning.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that Luke in his Gospel describes Mary as being horrified or ‘deeply troubled’ when Angel Gabriel gives her his news. Unlike the pictures on Christmas cards of Mary looking peaceful and beatific, her mind would have been racing with thoughts about how she would explain things to her family, not least to her fiancé Joseph. She knows Joseph might, quite understandably, not believe her and leave her. She knows that she faces nine months of lying low and being on the receiving end of malicious gossip.

Perhaps that’s why she runs away to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth is also pregnant but pregnant with a child that she and her husband have been wanting and waiting for, for maybe twenty years. Everyone, therefore, is talking about the miracle of Elizabeth’s conception. Whereas everyone is talking about the dodgy circumstances surrounding Mary’s.

Similarly, Elizabeth’s son – John the Baptist – is born into great fanfare – among the rejoicing of friends, family and the whole community. But Mary’s son – Jesus – is born quietly, anonymously, out of town with only strangers coming to visit.

Which makes you wonder whether Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem with him just to get her away from home for the time of the birth. Surely only the head of the family needed to travel for the census and Mary could have stayed at home?
All in all, we see Jesus being born into a troubled environment. Even, you might say, being born in humiliation, just as He was to die in humiliation.

Mary’s response to God’s will

In today’s world it would be hard to blame Mary if she had said no, if she had been unwilling to accept this pregnancy and all that it entailed for her. If she had decided to put an end to it.

But Mary not only does not have that option, she is also sufficiently present to God to know that it is God’s will and to be obedient to that will.

Luke says that at the Annunciation, after the initial shock and questioning, Mary says, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ The angel had come to her when she had been fully present in prayer with God. And, after being distracted by her understandable self-focused concerns, Mary returns to the presence of God. And is ready to do His will.

Our response to God’s will

When we are fully present to God, we know that sometimes He says things and shows us things that alarm us. That imply great change in our lives. We often react with understandable self-focused concerns. And very often that’s where things end. We allow our personal concerns to rule the day.

But let’s have the courage of Mary.

The courage to return to the presence of God and be ready to do His will. Whatever the cost. Knowing, as Mary did, that if it is God’s will then it is going to lead ultimately to true peace and healing.

My first pregnancy test, continued

Finally, if you are wondering about my pregnancy back in 1988, let me finish the story.

I took the slip of paper, stuffed it into my pocket and hurried to my office so that I could call my husband, who was in London. This was before the days of mobile phones. When I arrived in the office, my boss was on the line and it was about an hour before I managed to speak to Peter. I told him my news with my heart in my mouth - as I knew this was not something he really wanted. There was a silence – a silence that seemed to last an eternity. And then he said, ‘Congratulations. That’s fabulous news.’ It felt as though, in those few seconds, he – like Mary - had gone through an internal struggle and then come back to the presence of God, to the will of God. And accepted it. And, through true acceptance, had been able to rejoice in it. As Mary does when, having said ‘Let it be with me according to your word,’ she then goes on to sing the Magnificat – a great hymn of praise to God.

So let’s be like Mary – present to God, accepting God’s will, being obedient to it. And thereby finding true joy.