Two weeks ago I was in a small town in Zimbabwe called Chipinge. A few days after I left a cyclone hit Chipinge washing away hundreds of houses, bridges, roads and killing many people. The devastation to crops on the Eastern side of Zimbabwe has been disastrous. Across the border in Mozambique things have been much worse. Hundreds of square miles were under water for days. Can you imagine what it must be like to live in one of those villages when the floods came? Maybe you are old, your knees don’t work well. You can’t run. You can’t climb onto a roof, or up a tree. You simply get swept away. What if you are a mother with small children, maybe a baby on your back? You try to get up a tree but the kids can’t make it and get swept away. Or you cling on for days in the pouring rain getting colder and colder and the kids can’t cling on and fall off. It is a terrible situation to be in; terrible too for those who try to rescue people and simply can’t get near.
One of those mothers could have been Mary, the mother of Jesus. She didn’t get caught up in floods but she did have to make the long journey to Bethlehem on foot while heavily pregnant and have her baby in someone’s crowded house. She had to flee Bethlehem soon after the baby was born so that he would not be killed in the pogrom organised by Herod the Great. When mothers and children get caught up in the tragedies of our time – in war in Syria, in floods in Zimbabwe, in the poverty that exists even in England – we must think of Mary. She is there, praying for the mothers and the children, giving them hope and strength. She didn’t lead a comfortable middle class life protected from all nastiness. Nastiness confronted her every day in Palestine, with Roman troops, corrupt Jewish officials and a climate that didn’t always provide enough food.
Today, as we celebrate that wonderful day when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary telling her she would bring the Christ child into the world, we need to think of the world to which Christ came. It was a world that desperately needed Christ the Prince of Peace, and it still needs him. Usually when we think of the Annunciation we think of beautiful works of art, towering angels, beautiful young Mary and a peaceful garden. That is part of the truth. God is beautiful. Everything he does is beautiful. It is amazing and wonderful that he should choose to be born as a human baby. So today it is right that we should celebrate this beautiful event with a beautiful mass full of colour, music and lovely vestments. Yet beauty comes at a price. A beautiful baby comes through the agonising pain of childbirth. Jesus’ birth meant other baby boys were killed in Bethlehem. Jesus own beautiful birth ended in the excruciating agony of the Cross, yet out of that pain came the joy of the Resurrection. Beauty and ugliness, pain and joy are tied up together in this world. And we are called to do something about it.
When Mary was told she would give birth to Christ she was afraid and said “How can this be?”. The angel told her that the Holy Spirit would be with her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her. When we look at this world of cyclones and climate change, of wars and drug abuse, of poverty even here in the UK we realise we must do something about it. We can’t just look at beautiful pictures of the Annunciation. Christ went into this messy world to change it. We must go with him. Whatever it is – whether it is the needs of young people in Zimbabwe, cyclone victims in Mozambique, muslim mothers in Syria, or knife crime among the young people in England, we need to do something. This church needs to do something. What we do may seem small but the Holy Spirit will be with us and the Angel Gabriel will go before us. As more and more of us act to bring the true message of Christ into this broken, sinful but beautiful world changes will happen and we will see Christ working in our midst.
What is it that Christ is asking you to do now? Think of it; listen to Christ asking you to do it, then echo the words that Mary spoke: “Let it be, to me, according to your will.” She was never sorry she said those words. Nor will we be sorry if we follow her example.