These are the words spoken by the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary when he first appears to her at the annunciation. He commands: “Rejoice!” In a fallen world, where her holy Child will suffer, where he will die, in a world which will never easily or fully accept the story now beginning to unfold before the young woman’s eyes, and in which her own role will be very nearly as dangerous, crucial and sorrowful as the Messiah’s own role, in this circumstance Mary is commanded by a heavenly messenger to rejoice.
Doesn’t this raise an important issue for us, the faithful? It is easy to dismiss these words, and not allow their full impact to echo in our mind. It is easy to see them as applying to the Mother of Jesus, but not to us. But her joy should be ours. Why isn’t it?
There is a rather punitive undertow to received spirituality that is suspicious of joy, that labels Christian joy out of touch with reality, insufficiently engaged with the world’s suffering victims of poverty, disease, hunger, disaster, war, injustice. That says accusingly, ‘The Messiah has not eliminated any sufferings. What good is he? Why rejoice?’
Yet the angel commands the young Mary to rejoice. He doesn’t merely invite, or suggest. His words are much stronger than that. He utters a divine injunction, a non-negotiable absolute. He is an angel, after all. He can’t be wrong about this. He knows what he is doing and saying. Let this fact settle for a moment or two. Doesn’t this divine imperative to rejoice, therefore, release something in the heart? Isn’t this truly Good News? The Angel Gabriel not only commands that Mary rejoice, he commands us to do so, also. And in so doing, He gives us permission to release that joy which is hidden in our heart, always just below the surface, always wanting to come out, and which our lugubrious self is always scolding back into hiding. But, just for a moment now, allow this joy to surface. Now, see where it takes you.