"Greetings, you who are highly favoured!" the angel said. "The Lord is with you." he said (see Luke chapter 1).
And Mary was greatly troubled.
This was not an auspicious start to the beginning of God's great and glorious plan to "save the world." He was not going to thunder down from on high and lightning-blast things into shape, or select a superhero to bring salvation to all.
Instead of Superman, God chose a poor, young woman. Instead of commissioning a cape, God blessed a veil.
But such a veil this was!
Swirling with mystery and wonder, revealing glimpses of unfathomable future sorrow, perfumed with the strange scents of tools and temples, myrrh and vinegar, fish and firewood...
For Mary's wardrobe of veils was just beginning.
The veil of judgement
Picture now the day that thisveil was draped across her slight form...
The angel drops in on Mary's serene morning ritual of baking. She drops the freshly kneaded dough onto the dusty floor. He drops the bombshell of all bombshells, complete with glowing exclamation marks and the excited shake of golden wings. She manages to ask a question about the practicality of it all (ever a womanly trait), and then takes in the revelation that:
a) she will become pregnant despite no man's input
b) she will give birth to the Son of God
c) this God-Child will reign supremely, eternally, and undisputedly as King of all Kings. Forever and ever.
But all the wonder and delight at this angelic prophecy could not shut out what would come next: the harsh judgement and suspicion of a society that shunned, sometimes stoned, women for being unfaithful to their betrothed, their family, their religion.
It was a heavy veil to wear, but Mary took up this humble mantle and draped it over her glowing face, patiently hiding her fear, her uncertainty, her daring joy.
The veil of shame
Meanwhile, for Joseph, the news was a shock, to say the least. No doubt he had been eagerly preparing a place and a home for his wife-to-be, proud of her goodness and sweetness, grateful that she would bring him honour. And now, everything he held to be true and right had come crashing down with her startling revelation.
Mary was pregnant; but not by him.
Faced with the imminent shame she had brought, Joseph decided to quietly divorce her. Only her parents and siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins and the whole world would know that she had become pregnant out of wedlock.
Sadly, Joseph prepared to draw a veil over Mary, and over the new and scandalous reality in which he unwillingly found himself a player.
The veil of isolation
We all know the story: Joseph also got a celestial visitor, accepted the strange twist life had thrown his way, and settled down to a somewhat unconventional marriage. A road trip wasn't part of the plan either, yet towards the end of Mary's pregnancy, they found themselves on the dusty road to Joseph's hometown. Hungry, weary, strangers in a town of their past, looking for somewhere, anywhere, to stay that night.
Mary was very pregnant, Joseph was very desperate, but everyone who heard of their plight had one, mutual reaction: turn them away.
The shroud of humiliation was stifling as they were denied any hospitality or help. The veil of isolation swirled around them as they were turned away again and again. Cut off, rejected, alone. And the dark cloak of resignation settled like an overcast sky, dimming once friendly streets with mocking shadows...
The veils of darkness
This is a story of veils. But these are not just Mary's veils, or even Joseph's cowls. No, these are the very threads that tie us all together. These are the folds that suffocate our souls.
These are the veils we all wear. The veils of judgement, shame, isolation and darkness.
And the more they layer upon our hurting souls, the darker is our view of the world beyond these veils.
Is this it? Staggering beneath the endless pall of silent, muffled misery? Layers upon layers upon layers?
But wait – there is one more veil yet to be worn...
The veil of Christ
For when the babe – that precious, holy babe – was born, they wrapped him in a veil of pure joy, swaddling him with half-known hopes and whispered promises.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, cloaking all mankind within His generous folds, and tenderly wrapping each one of us in a veil of Love.
The Christ, the Lord, the veil that He dispatched so freely, shining softly and sweetly in a manger. The birth of a new way of being. Clarity to murky minds, light to blinded eyes, glory and salvation to clouded hearts and lost souls.
Yes, this is the veil that we celebrate this Christmas. This is the Christ, the manifestation of God's enfolding embrace.
This is the Veil given us to wear.
READ THE POEM HERE:she wore the veil
Emma is an Italian-South African with a New Zealand passport, living in Papua New Guinea. After years of running a puppet ministry and directing student choirs, she currently serves with Mission Aviation Fellowship. Emma's deep joy is in writing, music, playing with her ginger cats and finding God in unexpected places.
Emma McGeorge's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/emma-mcgeorge.html