“Then the angel left her”. (Luke 1:38)
I have chosen these few words of scripture from the final sentence of Luke’s annunciation narrative. What unfolds after these few verses is a journey made across the hills of Judea as Mary set out to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Perhaps the shepherds who would later come to adore the new born baby saw Mary pass by on her journey? Perhaps they wondered who she was and why all the rush? Shepherds need to be accomplished at waiting, watching and lingering about – they were men who took notice – what did they see, what did they observe, what did they understand by the urgency of this young woman’s journey?
Returning to that one verse of scripture marking the end of the annunciation encounter; “then the angel left her”. Mary was now on her own. An encounter which would change her life and the life of our church forever had come to an end. Mary remains utterly alone with a task which Pope Emeritus Benedict suggests “truly surpasses all human capacity”. There would be dark moments in Mary’s life … Joseph’s dismay at her pregnancy; a birth in a rugged stable; the losing of her son at the tender age of twelve; His life of ministry and all that it entailed and ultimately His death on a Cross. Mary would face these dark moments alone right up to the night of the Cross.
I am so conscious this year of people in our church, people in our diocese, who on this Christmas Day will feel very alone. Maybe you buried a son or daughter in the past year; perhaps you faced the loss of work or the uncertainty of ill health or you just live with a feeling of being forgotten, misunderstood, disconnected. I want to assure you, you are not alone. Like Mary, while the angel left her, his presence remained with her for the rest of her life. Sometimes we light a candle, we offer a prayer for one intention or another and feel despondent if that prayer isn’t answered. There were many moments during Mary’s arduous faith journey when she could have given up, many moments when she persevered, because of the angel’s visit all those years back. Let us rejoice when our prayers are answered, but let us keep faith when we seem so alone.
Our country in January will begin a year of centenary commemorations remembering 1916, and in the early months of the year we will have a General Election to elect public representatives to the 32nd Dáil Eireann. I think it is so important that all of us engage in the remembering of our past, and equally engage in the shaping of our future. Alone we can do nothing but together, as that beautiful Irish word ‘meitheal’ captures, so much is possible, so much is achievable. I pray that we as a Diocese and as a country will play our part in remembering the past, but equally our role in paving our future. What kind of society do we want to leave behind for the babies who will be born this Christmas Day? What kind of value system do we want those children to experience? What kind of remembrance do we want them or their children to have of the Ireland of 2015 in fifty or even a hundred years’ time? The decisions of today form the society of tomorrow.
I am moved every year by the empty mangers in the run up to Christmas; I don’t like to rush the nativity moment; let’s be as challenged by the manger that is empty as we are by the newborn Jesus. And remember, during those alone moments Mary must have been challenged hugely but her faith sustained her. I pray that your faith will be enriched during these days of Christmas. I pray that those who feel alone will know that they are not, there are others caring for them and looking out for them. I pray that all of us will play our part to create the Ireland we want for those who will come after us.
I conclude with the lovely line from the seventeenth century poet Aodh Mac Aingil’s poem ‘An Naoidhe Naomh’ (The Sacred Child):
“A Mhuire, a mháthair, a ógh,
oscail doras an chró dhamh
go n-adhrainn ardrí na ndúl –
nach córa dhúinn ná do dhamh?”
(Mary, Virgin and Mother,
open the stable door
till I worship the King of Creation.
Why not I more than the ox?)
Every blessing for Christmas and 2016. Ag guí Nollaig Shona ort agus go raibh an Ath-bhliain lán de bheannachtaí
1. Lk. 1:38
2. Benedict XVI ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, Bloombury, 2012, pg. 37.
3. From ‘An Duanaire’ / ‘Poems of the Dispossessed’, translated by Thomas Kinsella, Dolmen Press, 1981.
+ Denis Nulty
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