There are a few times in life where everything changes in an instant. It seems that things become irreversible, you can’t go back and don’t necessarily know the way forward. Sometimes it is by our own choosing and sometimes it isn’t. These moments can be found in the birthing room at a hospital, or in a fancy restaurant. I have had them sitting across the desk from a neurologist and on the phone with my mom. I have found them moving away from home and coming back.
For people of faith, you can have this sense that God is in these moments. Sometimes though, it seems like only a hope because they lack any evidence.
Wouldn’t it be great if God would prepare us for these moments by coming down and telling us about them first.
In the Advent story recorded in the New testament Mary gets the visit we would all like. A messenger comes and delivers the news that everything is going to change. Her life will be disrupted. Ironically being told by an Angel didn’t bring the comfort we would have expected as Mary was still troubled by the news. Sometimes God is so inconvenient, but some of the best things in life usually are.
Not far away Mary’s cousin Zachariah was serving in the temple when he received some news that would change everything for him and especially his wife. In their old age they would have a child.
Zachariah’s response to the news is ‘How can this be?’, Mary’s is ‘How will this be?’.
The subtle difference is one of disbelief and control, versus one of faith and humility. Don’t get me wrong Zachariah is a Godly man, but Mary is the one who models a trust that is almost childlike. Zachariah is so shocked by the news that he is unable to speak of the event till after it is accomplished.
Asking how God will do something is different than asking if he can. I find myself asking both questions of God. On the one hand Mary demonstrates a faith that is so beautifully childlike: ‘How will you do this thing?, How will you provide all I will need, How will I have the strength to do this?’ Zechariah’s question is more cynical, How can you do this?
Once you have an encounter with God you have a choice to believe that God wants you because of who you are, not just because your a warm body. We don’t just incubate God’s ideas, he grows them inside of us.
Many ask how can God save humanity, but others ask how will he?
God’s response is Jesus. This scandal of Particularity as some have called it. That God would come in such a detailed and specific way to a small little outpost in the Roman Empire and through the womb of a peasant young girl. God’s priority is written all over this story…Relationship. This story is all about that, between women and men, husbands and wives, cousins and aunts, priests and laity, kings and scholars, locals and foreigners. But most of all between humanity and divinity.
God doesn’t compromise his priority of relationship when fulfilling his plan to redeem humanity, because in his plan to redeem humanity it is all about relationship. If we only took the time too read this story again as a child. Understand it without all the cynicism that growing up brings. Maybe we would find ousel asking different questions. Maybe you’ll be ok with not having all the answers, and say like Mary, “May it be as you have said”.
This is what this Christmas story is all about. The story is full of all the details explaining the ‘how’, but we need to make sure we don’t miss the ‘why’.
it was all about relationship, God’s desire for one with us. And we celebrate Christmas when those are the things we care about, Because those are the things that God cares about.