So on this feast of the Annunciation, the event of the Angel Gabriel coming to Mary to announce the news that she would conceive and bear a son, Jesus, who would be the savior of the world, it is natural to think about how God communicates with us. To wonder how God will announce the news to us about where it is God might be leading us, about how God wants to use us as vessels of grace in this world.
One friend told me he suggested to God the use of a brick falling out of the sky with a note attached that said, "Go (or don't go, if that was the plan) to seminary." I myself planted a burning bush (Euonymus alatus) next to my mailbox, figuring God could make use of either the bush or the U.S. Mail. Another friend told of his own friend's agonizing over whether to stay in a job or take a new one and finally distinctly hearing a message from God that basically, God didn't care which place the man did the work, so long as it was God's work that was being done.
We make a lot out of the fact that Mary said yes. That Mary could have said no. (Which gives rise to the question - was there another woman who did say no? Naturally, she wouldn't have made it into the story.) But either way, God did have a plan, and communicated that plan to Mary, who agreed to the part she was to play.
Then there's the story of Joseph, son of Jacob, who was put in well by his brothers who hated him, and sold into slavery, and went to Egypt and then after Joseph had become and Important Person, he was the one who saved his family from starvation. The brothers were concerned that Joseph would be mad at them for putting him in a well and selling him into slavery (duh), but Joseph explains that while the brothers did what they did in order to bring harm to Joseph, God meant it for good. In other words, God was the behind-the-scenes mover and shaker.
It would have been different if Joseph said, "But God brought good out of it nonetheless." In other words, this is slightly different from God bringing good out of tragedy or even evil. This sounds like God engineering.
So, does God engineer? Are we puppets in a larger cosmic drama, the way people were in the stories of the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses?
The story of Mary and the way it is told in Luke is that God does have a plan, a plan of salvation, and many and varied are the vessels by which God brings things about in this world, but somewhere in there is also the idea that our knowing and willing cooperation is part of the plan. This is not engineering the way it sounds in the Joseph and his brothers story (which may be semantics, but that's an argument for another day).
When I wonder about what God might be calling me to, I remember the friend's friend: it probably doesn't matter if it's this location or that location. Notice that Gabriel did not spell out the whole Bethlehem-Nazareth thing to Mary. It's the work that we are given to do, the people we are given to love, the good news we are given to share. We may ourselves discern that for any number of reasons, one location is better than another for us to do that work, but it's doing God's work that matters.
Still, an angel's visit would be nice. Or a note.