We are often so fearful of upsetting those around us that it can be difficult to find our courage at times…and yet I believe God calls us in surprising ways…and at times these ways may even require us to lose our spirit of timidity.
We admire courage in others and we are even attracted to their ability to “throw caution to the wind”, and yet for ourselves we become so overly concerned with how others see us…what their opinion of us might be… and we don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers…make any enemies…
Our survival instincts kick in as we worry about our reputation… what people will say about us in the conversations that surround us. Will there be those who pull away from us….leave us… when we need them the most?
The stories about the men and women we find in the pages of Bible can seem Herculean to our modern mind especially Mary who spoke directly to the Angel of God…
And yet I wonder if Mary might have felt this way too..
Can you imagine the risk and courage it took Mary to say yes to God? How she must have been talked about and looked down upon?
As the Advent season approaches, let us once again, reflect with new eyes on the most profound moment in the Gospel message when Heaven came down to earth and touch the life of this rather young inexperienced girl.
“But the angel said to her “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the most High.” Luke 1: 31-32
Pause now and consider Henry Ossawa Tanner’s (1859-1937) Annunciation. This artist was the first internationally known African American painter and a child of the “Great Awakening” in church history.
As in all artistic expression, he brings his life experiences to a blank canvas and it is interesting to think about how his life and times might have affected his work.
The “Great Awakening” was an 18th century religious movement, that began in England and spread to predominately the New England region of the United States and was ignited by the teachings of the Wesley Brothers and later George Whitefield. These men preached a more intimate and emotional experience of God; one that felt as if you were being awakened from a sleep to see God in an entirely new light. (Many of our most beloved carols and hymns derive from this period. More on these 18th century praise songs next week)
So consider now Henry Tanner who was born during the time of the American Civil War to a Father who was a minister of the A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal Church) and a mother who was born into slavery, but courageously escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad.
Henry Tanner takes this familiar scene of Mary hearing from the Angel Gabriel and strikes a different chord in us. What is usually portrayed with beauty and mystery is now filled with bold color and drama. It is Mary as she is suddenly awakened to hear God’s call.
This scene, shown here mixed with bright red and yellow, creates in us a clash of emotion. Just as God’s message of hope and light can also attract and repel when it challenges each of us to rise higher than we had dreamed…”to walk in newness of life.”
Tanner’s family background, of religious awakening, is wedded to feminine courage to merge into a unique expression of spiritual tension.
Look now as he captures Mary just as she is “awakened” to see the light of God. She is not yet fully transformed into God’s likeness….therefore the blue robe cast over a chair to the side, but, despite her fear, she is facing it with eyes wide open. Mary does not hide, she is instead embraced by the passion of her calling, (the red that surrounds her) as she listens to the news of God’s mission for her life.
So how is God stretching you this week? How can you cast aside your worries and throw all caution to the wind?
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” Isaiah 60:1
” Be imitators of God, therefore, as clearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God….For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light…” Ephesians 5: 1-2, 8
“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” vs 14
Dear Lord, As we live and work this week fill our hearts with passion for your will in our lives so that we may shine your love into the world. Forgive us when we speak in haste, when we let our last nerve show….guide our thoughts and purify our minds so that we may not hold back from your ways. Give us the courage of our convictions and the power to act upon them.
And let us not forget that He is Mighty to Save!