We are told over and over in the Scriptures “do not be afraid” or “be not afraid” or “do not fear”. Well, in my humble experience of the Bible, it strike me that when God or an angel or some other instrument uses these words, one should be extremely concerned! After all, God is preparing you for something really big. The world as you know it will start shaking and quaking and the foundation that you’ve so carefully built for yourself will become mere quicksand. Nothing will ever be the same again.
But of all the “be not afraids” in the Bible, surely the one to a young Galilean girl at the beginning of what we now call the “first century” takes the cake! “Excuse Me, Mary, I have something for you to do. I’d like you to give birth to a son even though you haven’t married Joseph yet and even though none of your family or your friends or your community will understand it and even though the world will struggle with this birth so much that it will initially not end well, and, oh yeah, there’s one other small little detail…you will be essentially birthing the salvation of the world! But, do not be afraid! So, let me know what you think!” I think Mary’s initial response (as its translated in our Scriptures) is one of the most profound phrases ever: “How can this be?” It is the question of faith. Because, you see, it CAN’T be–not without God and, interestingly enough, not EVEN without Mary.
But in Mary’s defense, she had other preconceptions working against her. (Oh…so we’re not the only ones with that problem!) There is a folktale that is told in the Book of Tobit (you’ll find it in the Apocrypha) that tells of a jealous angel who would appear on a bride’s wedding night each time she married and killed her bridegroom. This story, of course, was probably part of the culture in which Mary lived. So, don’t be afraid? Good grief…she was terrified! But she listens to the reassurance that she is given and take it “under advisement”.
And then God waits…(boy, God’s good at waiting–maybe THAT’S part of the lesson!)…God waits patiently for Mary to respond. The world hangs suspended if only for a time, its very salvation teetering on the brink of its demise. Oh, sure, if Mary said no, God could have gone to someone else. God could have found SOMEONE to birth the salvation of the world. But it wouldn’t have been the same. After all, the Divine did not just plunk a far-removed piece of the Godself into a womb. Our understanding is that, yes, the Christ was fully Divine; but Jesus was “born of a woman”, fully human and, as a human, Jesus carried Mary’s unique and specific DNA with him. Mary was not just a container through which God came into this little world. Mary’s DNA, Mary’s response, Mary’s “how can this be?”, Mary’s “yes” is all through the salvation of the world.
So, how can this be? I do believe in the omnipotence of God. But I also believe that God, in God’s infinite wisdom, chose to give up part of that power. It’s called free will. God gave a piece of the Godself to each of us that we might choose to respond in faith. How can this be? Certainly not without God and not even without us. Our faith journey is a partnership with God, a dance between the human and the Divine. And so God waits…How can this be?…Only if you respond. Remember, Mary said “yes” and the Divine began to spill in to the womb of the world. Salvation began.
In this season of Advent, give yourself the gift of responding to the God that calls you to birth part of the earth’s salvation. How can this be? I don’t know…it’s your calling! What is your response?
Grace and Peace,