The 1st Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you!” “You shall conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”
The fruit of the mystery is humility.
Mary’s answer to Gabriel is simply incredible, but it became much more precious for me when I stopped to ponder the middle of this story. We may miss the best part is we fail to recognize the humanness in Mary. Not sinfulness, but humanness. That’s the quality that makes this event so marvelous.
“But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’”
She was greatly troubled! Scared, even? Can you see her expression; hear the thoughts racing through her mind?
What in the world is going on?!? He’s telling me not to be afraid… what is this all about? A son? Now I’m confused. How can this be? I do not know man. God Himself will do this? The child will be holy? The Son of God?
Now comes the glorious ending: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”
She went from being troubled and confused one moment to being perfectly willing and trusting the next because of true humility. Her reply is remarkable not only because of what she said but because of all she didn’t say. She didn’t say, “Me? Why me?” Or, “But, but, wait…” She didn’t say, “I can’t…” Gabriel gave her precious few details about how this would all unfold, yet she didn’t hesitate to agree. She understood it wasn’t really about her; it was about Him.
Mary didn’t say “yes” with a proud spirit or a self-congratulatory attitude, nor did she refuse out of a feeling of inadequacy or unworthiness. She knew she was a mere mortal, most unworthy. She also knew God was wise and loving and able. Her “yes” had nothing to do with her and everything to do with Him.
Yes to His plan, His will, His power, His authority. She took Gabriel at his word and believed that God knew what He was doing, and her part was to simply say, “I am at your disposal.” It was up to God to do everything else. It’s also noteworthy that she didn’t offer any assistance. She didn’t presume that she could add something to the mix that would make it better. She said yes, and then carried on as usual. Not knowing what would happen next or how it would happen, she left everything after that moment up to God.
That’s real humility. To say to God, “As You wish. You will do it. Do with me whatever You please. All glory is Yours.” It seems plain enough, but so often real humility gets all mixed up with false humility (which is actually pride). It seems more humble to refuse when asked to do something, especially something important, and we say self-deprecating things like, “Oh, I’m not that good,” or “I’m not smart enough,” or “I’ve never done that before,” or “There are lots of people who are better at this than me,” and on and on and on.
Don’t you shudder to think what might have happened if Mary had responded that way? She may have felt there were smarter, more capable, more experienced women in the community. She could have tried to defer and list all the reasons why she was right to defer. But thank God she was humble enough to say yes.
It’s not a mark of humility to say to God that His plan can’t be done because you’re not the one, you’re inadequate, you’re not smart enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not ________________ (fill in the blank).
Of course you’re not good enough. So what? God is good enough. God has everything, God is everything and humility is just saying “yes” and not thinking too much or too little of you, but only of how great God is.
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.” Luke 1:46-49
Mary, most mild, pray for me that I will humbly say “yes” to God in whatever He asks of me.
The 2nd Joyful Mystery: The Visitation of Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth
“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth… Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.” Luke 1:39-40, 56
The fruit of the mystery is love of our neighbor.
Gabriel had just left her, and the first thing she does is prepare to leave and visit Elizabeth, her cousin. Gabriel had told her Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy, a testament to the power of God.
It wouldn’t have seemed unreasonable for Mary to have stayed home to rest and take care of herself, now that she herself was expecting. And after all, the angel had said this child would be the holy Son of God! That certainly deserves some pampering and special treatment!
But I suspect Mary was overjoyed at the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and couldn’t wait to get there and share the wonder of it all with her. Now the two of them could delight in each other’s miracles and bask in the glory of God and all He had done by His power alone. I can easily imagine them hugging and laughing and fussing over each other.
It’s really a simple lesson this mystery teaches – take care of each other. Even when you have good reason for worrying only about yourself, try to find a way to care for someone else also. I’m your neighbor and you’re mine. There will be plenty of opportunities for us to care for each other and meet the other’s needs. But will we?
And what about the neighbor we don’t particularly like? What about the neighbor we can’t stand? There’s where it gets sticky! Even then, we are asked to find ways to show love. Love that is hard to give, love that requires a real sacrifice, love that is on-purpose-even-though-I-really-don’t-want-to is the truest of all.
A good place to start is our own families. Love-on-purpose that family member you don’t like being around. Love-on-purpose the one who irritates you to no end. Love-on-purpose the relative you have nothing in common with. Love the one who just plain drives you crazy. Do it as unto Jesus, and watch how your heart changes.
Be happy for the blessings in your family member’s lives and celebrate with them. Rejoice in their good fortune without envy, and bear their sorrow with them whenever you can. Pray for them. Bring Christ to your family, as Mary brought Christ to Elizabeth’s.
These are simple, ordinary bits of guidance, and most of the time we’ll do these things without earthly applause. We just do it because it’s the right thing to do. We may fail miserably and often in loving our neighbor, but the good news is we’ll never run out of chances to live this mystery, and practice makes perfect!
The 3rd Joyful Mystery: The Birth of Jesus
“She gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7
The fruit of the mystery is poverty.
When I think about poverty, my immediate reaction is to be repulsed. Poverty is not something I find enchanting. My instinct for self-preservation vehemently rejects the idea of poverty. It inspires fear and dread in me.
Poverty means to be vulnerable, shunned, and perhaps worst of all, invisible. Poverty is empty and deprived.
What a stunning paradox then that God would offer Himself to us in poverty. Omnipotent, All-possessing King lies helpless and needy in humiliating surroundings. He who commands the sun to shine and our hearts to beat within our chests comes powerless into our world to be greeted by cows and sheep.
It’s disarmingly brilliant. We cannot refute the love of a God who sheds His riches and might and gives Himself to us in poverty. He did not come with frightening awe and intimidating splendor so we would cower before Him in fear. He came to us small, weak, dependent and poor. He sought to inspire our affection and devotion rather than command our submission.
As much as I may dread the possibility of material poverty, I must learn to embrace the mystery of being poor in spirit. Who are the poor in spirit? Only those brave souls who willingly admit their wretchedness before a holy God, who know exactly how undeserving they are yet humbly bow before Him, grateful for His mercy. Those souls who never presume to be good enough on their own to stand before Him, but know how truly pitiful is their human state.
More than just a superficial knowing, the poor in spirit live the knowledge of their sinfulness truthfully, without making light of their sin. What courage and honesty it requires to see myself as I truly am, without shining up my sin and spritzing perfume on my foul offenses.
If gold could have relieved our troubles and lifted us out of our darkness, then Jesus could have simply come in His Royalty and tossed us bags of coins. If physical power and strength was all we needed to defeat our enemy, then the Invincible One could have come with His armies and settled the whole matter in minutes. He came to us in poverty so we would see that all we will ever need is who He is.
We need Him, the person of Jesus. Only He can save us, because we don’t need wealth or power – we need mercy. We need forgiveness to cleanse us. Only His blood can do that. The illusion of our goodness keeps us full of ourselves, but the poor in spirit have Christ as their inheritance, for they know how empty they truly are and so they are filled with Him. “Blessed are they who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Isn’t it just like our God to turn poverty into unfathomable riches?
The 4th Joyful Mystery: The Presentation in the Temple
“When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, (as is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord.”) and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” Luke 2:22-24
The fruit of the mystery is obedience.
It’s rather humorous to read that paragraph. Mary and Joseph took the Lord to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord! The Lord presented Himself to Himself!
The Father demanded no special treatment for His Son. No exceptions, no favoritism. The Law of Moses was the Law and the Law was to be obeyed. He came to fulfill the Law, not toss the Law out the window. He came to live our human experience is every single way that we do, including obeying the law.
But notice, please, which law we’re talking about here. God’s law – the law that is always just and right and good. We needn’t ever worry when obeying God’s law. It will always be for our benefit and His greater glory. Obeying God’s law will never steer us wrong or lead us down a destructive path. God’s blessing is always in His law.
We live in a time when there are many unjust and just plain immoral laws, and one day we just might have to choose between following God’s law and following the law of the land because the two may be in irreconcilable contradiction. In fact, that day is fast approaching. For today, there will most assuredly be occasions, however small, where I have to choose to obey God. I may be sorely tempted to ignore or “forget” His commands and then try to justify my rebellion. No surprise – that never works out well!
Time to refresh my memory about why it’s so good for me to follow God’s law:
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” Psalm 19:7-8
“I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.” Psalm 119:104
“The wicked have set a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your precepts. Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end.” Psalm 119:110-112
“Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165
Strength, wisdom, joy, light and clarity, understanding, courage, and sure footsteps… all the benefits of obedience. God is good!
The 5th Joyful Mystery: Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple
“While his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends…After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers…His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Luke 2:43-48
The fruit of the mystery is joy in finding Jesus.
To be honest, it really seems to me like Jesus got a pass here! He really didn’t think that by staying behind he’d scare the living daylights out of his parents? He didn’t think they’d mind him just disappearing? Worrying them that way was not a very thoughtful thing to do!
There’s Mary, worried out of her mind after searching for three days, and this is his response: “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Well, no, Son, actually, we didn’t know that! How would we know that?!? You could have just said so before we left, instead of making us look for you for three days!!
Anybody else thinking they would have wanted to dish out some serious punishment if their teenager had done this to them? (Who knows, maybe Mary and Joseph did!)
His boyhood thoughtlessness aside, there’s an important message in this mystery for the whole world: our worrying ceases when we find Jesus. Our hearts are anxiously searching for Him, and we are troubled and frightened until we find Him. There is joy in finding Jesus; there is worry and fear without Him. This is true for every soul that has ever lived whether they realize it or not. “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in You.” St. Augustine
In every event of our day, in every encounter, every task, every challenge, every burden, every struggle, there will be joy once we find Jesus in it. We will be overcome with worry til we do. He is there with us in everything and He wants to be found. It only remains to be seen whether we will look for Him.
There are a hundred opportunities every day for me to look for Jesus in what’s happening in my life and in the people I encounter. If I don’t see, it’s probably because I don’t look. I’m too wrapped up in my own head, too caught up in a hectic schedule. And so I find stress and anxiety instead of joy. I find worry and fear instead of Jesus. Silly me.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:13-14
Blessed Mary, ever patient Mother, teach me how to find Jesus… always… in everything.