I made the point in my sermon on Sunday that, for whatever reason, God wanted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to endure the worst part of the fiery furnace—which, perhaps surprisingly, wasn’t the furnace itself. As I explained, the worst part was, first, wrestling with the decision to go to the furnace (versus bowing down to the statue) and, second, anticipating the horror of the furnace: What would happen the moment they’re thrown in? What would dying that horrible death feel like?
Can you imagine?
Yes, the three friends hoped that God would deliver them; they knew that God had the power to do so; but this kind of faith isn’t the same as rock-solid certainty, as they acknowledge: “But if [God doesn’t deliver us], be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
And so it is with Mary in Luke 1:38: Following her words of perfect submission and faith, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” Luke writes, “And the angel departed from her.” Like the three friends, Mary must endure a great deal of suffering before she reaches her happy ending.
Joseph Ratzinger, a.k.a. the former Pope Benedict XVII, reflects on this verse:
The great hour of Mary’s encounter with God’s messenger—in which her whole life is changed—comes to an end, and she remains there alone, with the task that truly surpasses all human capacity. There are no angels standing round her. She must continue along the path that leads through many dark moments—from Joseph’s dismay at her pregnancy to the moment when Jesus is said to be out of his mind (cf. Mk 3:21; Jn 10:20), right up to the night of the Cross.
How often in these situations must Mary have returned inwardly to the hour when God’s angel had spoken to her, pondering afresh the greeting: “Rejoice, full of grace!” and the consoling words: “Do not be afraid!” The angel departs; her mission remains, and with it matures her inner closeness to God, a closeness that in her heart she is able to see and touch.
Notice the last sentence: Benedict implies that God wants Mary to suffer in this way—to struggle in her alone-ness—for a good reason: to bring her closer to God, to mature her faith.
Haven’t we found that our own “dark moments” accomplish the same purpose in our lives?
God knows what he’s doing. If only we could remember that when we’re going through our dark moments!
1. Pope Benedict XVII, Jesus of Nazareth: the Infancy Narratives (New York: Crown, 2012), 37-38.