For some time I’ve been fascinated by the final verse of this Sunday’s gospel. ‘And the angel left her’. This is when the hard work begins. I think for most of us the experience of life as Christians is often of living in the time after the angel has, figuratively, left us.
There are times when it all makes sense, where it is very easy to see the world and our lives in terms of the gospel, when we somehow feel all part of it and are very conscious of being loved by God and by others. There are other times when all of this is not there. And there are times, frequent for some of us, when the opposite is the case: when life seems as though we are not ‘favoured by God’, where nothing appears to make sense, and when we feel utterly abandoned.
Amidst all the copulsory happiness that the well-meaning can inflict on us over Christmas it is worth reflecting on the fact that the person the Church believes to be the foremost redeemed human being lived most of her life in the time after the angel left her. Without signs or obvious affirmation she persisted, that trust in God’s word, in spite of there being no sense how it could be fulfilled (‘how can this be?’) was how she lived out her fidelity to the covenant. Similarly, for many of us, that empty experience of sheer trust beyond comprehension, in the midst of life’s bleakness, will be how we live out the call of our baptism.
As is so often the case, T.S. Eliot captured this state well:
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hopeFor hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without loveFor love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faithBut the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing
The point here is that the absence of clear vision has the character of a gift – we are safe from the idolatry of present experience or contemporary thought; we are in no danger of thinking that we have happened upon the Kingdom in its finality. I say that this has the character of a gift, because sometimes the angel’s leaving will not take the form of a gift at all, but of an evil we should resist blessing – my own episodes of depression would be a case in point here. Nevertheless, these occasions can be used by the God who turns the fallenness of creation into the stage of redemption.
Yet however the angel leaves us, leave he must. For unless the angel leaves we will never grow up.