“Hail Mary, blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” We heard that a lot when we were kids, in context of Christmas approaching. I’m not sure I was listening very hard because the words that stuck in my brain were, “Blessed art thou, and thy Fruit of the Looms”. The childish mind hears funny things and it is good that we grow up to more nuanced understandings.
Here and there I have reread that portion of Scripture, where the same words are sometimes translated as “Highly favoured are you among women”. That will get you thinking. To be the favourite is what most people crave. It’s what kids suspect with parents, and the one piece of parenting advice that is best heeded. The world strives to be egalitarian. Don’t play favourites. It’s only just. And then the nasty facts slip out. Someone is the pet. Someone just got a bigger slice of cake than you did. Someone stuck out their tongue and said “Suck it up buttercup, Mom and Dad like me better than you. Did you ever think you might have been adopted?”.
Such worries can mess with your head. To suspect that someone else gets a better deal, can set you off. It could be that parents do play favourites. I have found that each of my three daughters is my favourite in a different way, which kind of puts things on a more even keel. It reminds me of a weepy story I read years ago that pretty much nails it. It was the tale of a woman who knew her time was short. She had been given the news from the doctor. “Make your final preparations. You have this many months, far as I can estimate given the usual progress of this disease.”
The woman gathered herself and wondered what she was going to leave her children. She devised a plan. She gave each a private note in which she explained “Don’t let this out, but I wanted to tell you that you were always my favourite.” Each child savoured those words for years after their mother had passed away. Only much later on did they come together to reveal the contents of their notes. Surprise - you may have guessed that the mother gave every child the same message. “You are my favourite”. It was a great way to leave things, and a great way for each child to go through life imagining that they were so greatly loved. They had a wonderful image to live up to. Perhaps it was a clarion call that each was given some kind of special purpose in the world.
It makes you parse the Annunciation more carefully, hearing stories like this. Mary could have drifted through life with the vague sense that she was lucky, but that is not how things unfolded. She had a special announement from Gabriel, God’s private messenger. Why God would TELL you that you were highly favoured? It doesn’t seem fair to everyone else. I guess being told made a difference. You would go through life with the sense that you had better keep your eye on the ball. You were given a special part in God’s plan.
I wonder sometimes if such news might also be universal. Like the mother in the story, God would whisper into each of our ears. “Did I ever tell you that you are my favourite?” It’s the message that was broadcast via the shepherds in the fields keeping watch by night. “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a great multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests!’”
I guess the secret is out of the bag. God is playing favourites. Surprise, it’s you and me, and everybody. Now that is not only good news, it’s about the best Christmas present you will ever get. “Psssst… I have a secret to pass on. Did I ever tell you that you were my favourite?”