Tolkien reminded us, "Courage is found in unlikely places." For some of us, the holidays require a bit of 'mustered courage' on our parts. They are not something we look forward to - perhaps because of loneliness, family discord, or even a lack of hope things will ever change in this world. As much as we are frightened by the load we bear right now, I wonder if we could look at the 'load' Mary bore all those years ago and take note of her tremendous courage to do what no other has been called to do. She was called to bear the Christ child - to bring into this world the Son of God in earthly form - an unwed mother, conceiving by 'miraculous means', in a time when 'being with child' outside of wedlock would have meant immediate rejection and disgrace. I don't doubt Mary had some significant moments of fear as she faced the Angel Gabriel that day - alone, visited by a heavenly presence, told she had been chosen. In fact, scripture tells us Gabriel almost immediately responded to her fear with the words, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. He will be great, be called ‘Son of the Highest.’ The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; He will rule Jacob’s house forever—no end, ever, to his kingdom.” (Luke 1:29-33) I think I might have shot back with, "That's easy for YOU to say!" She responded with words that suggested she might have wanted to understand more: "But how..." The most amazing thing about us standing right smack in the middle of our doubt is that God isn't afraid of our 'but how' moments. In fact, he knows it is our way of coming to terms with what it is he is asking us to do!
As the story goes on, we are told Mary 'wasted no time' in accepting what God was doing in her life - in spite of all the fear of her being rejected and shamed for her condition of 'being found to be with child'. Courage is indeed found in unlikely places. In the moment of asking the 'but how' question, Mary was coming to terms with this calling on her life. She was presented with the impossible then reminded immediately that nothing is impossible with God. There are times when we want to understand and still don't, no matter how many times we ask the 'but how' question. "But how will my family ever heal from this loss?" "But how will we ever mend this riff in the relationship?" "But how will I put one foot in front of the other when I feel so much darkness around me?" As we ask those questions, even when we repeat them because we don't think God has answered us or given us enough information, he is urging us to embrace his courage in place of our fears, doubts, and deep emotional regrets. It may indeed be tough to face the holidays, but God's plan is for us to embrace his grace - allowing that grace to bolster our courage until we stand strong in the midst of what otherwise would cause us great distress. God isn't 'put off' by us asking 'but how' - in fact, he realizes this is a natural response to things we don't understand. We may not get the visitation of a mighty angel like Gabriel, but we have much more - we have the very presence of God within us. The 'but how' is already within us! Just sayin!