The Road to Annunciation

Painting by Francesco Granacci (1506/7) - MOMA, NYC

There is a tendency to view Christmas as a happy event - a time of merriment, laughter and joy.

Most of the carols we sing express the same thought, retail outlets and restaurants come up with the best offers possible to make the festivities even more enjoyable and fun, and a walk through the malls will give the impression that we are now entering a season of perpetual gladness.

Now it's true that there is a certain degree of joy in the festivities but then that is the case of all festivals in general -- they are a time that brings families together, a time to celebrate with one another, a time to eat without guilt and a time to make memories with those near and dear ones.  Christmas is one such festival that has taken this idea to the next level and is considered to be the high point in the commercial calendar as much as it is in the ecclesiastical.

Somehow Christmas has been so closely and deeply associated with feelings of happiness that there is a degree of optimism all around that one normally cannot find rest of the year.  You just need to watch any of those Christmas specials on TV and the overpowering sweetness can be hard to miss.

However, if one looks closely at the Christmas story, we will realise that the gospel account presents a completely different picture where we learn that it wasn't exactly the happiest of moments for some of its key players.

Elizabeth had to grapple with the embarrassment of being pregnant with John the Baptist at a ripe old age.  I wonder what kind of looks she must have got  by the women in the neighbourhood or wonder what kind of nods Zechariah would have got from his friends.

Mary was told that she would give birth to the promised Messiah even though she was a virgin. It's not hard to imagine what that would have meant for an unwed girl or for that matter to her parents. The shame of an unwed mother is a problem in many traditional societies as much as it was in the first century Palestine.

Joseph learnt that his fiancee was pregnant and to make matters worse, she claimed that she heard from God that it was going to be a miracle birth, and that she would be the mother of the Messiah.  I am sure Joseph would have liked to believe her but the idea of a virgin birth seemed not only ridiculous but also heartbreaking... was she unfaithful to him? That thought must have prompted him to seek a separation till God himself had to intervene and let Joseph know that Mary was speaking the truth.

Then we have the shepherds who heard the message from the angels, and I wonder who paid attention to them. They were after all not exactly the town elite and so there was no reason for them to be taken seriously.

If we look at each of these characters, they all had to undergo a trial by fire before they were able to emerge victorious. It was hard for them and no one would have blamed them if they had given up because the situation they were in was such that it required tremendous faith for them to carry on.

I am sure they had questions as to why were they placed in such a situation and they didn't have immediate answers.  Those of us who are facing a different Christmas this year, one without our loved ones... we may have our own questions, too. There is pain all around that we can't understand. There is a difficulty we are undergoing that seems quite incongruous to the mood of the season. There is laughter and merriment all around but we cannot relate to all that mirth.  

We have questions and am sure just like those characters in the gospels we would prefer a different scenario. Sadly, that's not an option we can choose. However, what we can do is learn from what these characters did... they trusted even though it made no sense to do so and their reward was far greater than they imagined. 

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