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Overcoming the impossible with Mary
One of the greatest benefits of being a person who studied education and history in college is that, despite my proclivity in fact to the “hard sciences,” I never developed my understanding of them, and consequently, I find many things to be completely miraculous. In some ways, I still live in the Stone Age, because I’m marvel at many things around me, that someone who took biology or chemistry or physics might just think are painfully boring and monotonous. And if you’re student, you’d find them impossibly anxiety-ridden, as many of you were assessed on their knowledge of those subjects through examinations that seemingly determine your fate altogether.
So rather than be tested on it in some intense environment, I prefer the naivety of being amazed that we can cruise 30,000 feet in the air at 500 miles an hour—and that my biggest complaint while I’m doing that is that I can’t use my cell phone to call my friends who are 30,000 feet below me and possible 1,000 miles away. I prefer to be amazed that the sun rises every day. I like marveling at the fact that we can watch baseball in a different time zones—and Tweet about it.
I love to be amazed every year at this time. The miracle of childbirth is enough, frankly. The fact that God would be born into this world through Jesus is more than enough. Him coming in the form of a baby, even more incredible. That’s amazing, that the God of the Universe, who hold it all in His hands, was an embryo, that grew and grew into a baby and an adult, who ultimately died to redeem all of us. That’s a hard story to believe and so let it amaze you again and again. Allow Jesus to be born into you again and again, too.
More unbelievable for Mary, because she probably didn’t get the cosmic consequences of her pregnancy (how often do we get them either?), was that fact that became great with pregnancy by herself, as a virgin. That’s an amazing miracle.
But more than that, it is fear-inducing. It is frightening. It’s scary. I can’t even imagine those circumstances. I mean people freak out when the condom breaks, let alone this! Matthew records that Joseph is afraid of public disgrace and wants to divorce his fiancé quietly. And Mary is probably experiencing the difficulties that occur early in pregnancy, which is complicated by the impossibility of believing that she’s pregnant. Either her and Joseph did it before she was married—unspeakable in the Middle East now, let alone 2,000 years ago. Or she was slept with someone else, which might bring an ever greater shame to her. Jesus enters into the world, and redeems it; he does it through a woman, and begins the process of redeeming the errant view of woman as less-than-equal that still plague us today and honors a woman in a nearly unprecedented way. Almost saying, “What? Is your answer to shame her and stone her? Is it to judge her and gossip about her? No wonder we would advise to terminate her pregnancy, because if they walk around with the bump, we’ll act nice in church and then talk crap in the parking lot.” He subverts the prejudice and offers something new. Jesus helps breaks through the fear and anxiety that plagues us. Jesus offers us peace and calmness, without disrupting our fire and our will to change the world.
More than just breaking through the fear, Jesus really believes in who we are, and we have a responsible to respond with something greater than fear.
Things keep happening in this story that are hard to believe. For starters, we have to believe in angels. Mary has to really get to a place where she buys the fact that the angel is right there, that God is with her, and through it all, that He’s found favor in us!
How unbelievable. I wonder if that’s the hardest thing for Mary to believe, that God has found favor in her, and it is through her that he will be birthed. Not only will this miraculous baby be born through her, he’ll be called the Son of God, and he will rule forever. The King of kings is born out of her.
The whole process, her whole fear and anxiety is removed in part because she believes that God’s found favor in her. Do we really believe that God finds favor in us? That today, we are vessels that God can be birthed through and we can offer Him, even as a baby, to the people around us?
Well, God has found favor in you and your service and offers you another chance to do the impossible—virgin or not—God is being born in you, and that is a great miracle again. Believe that God loves you, knows you, and wants to use you, and allow that to melt away your fear and your anxiety.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. It’s not just about self-awareness and a positive self-image. That’s not the totality of the Gospel. We are actually asked to do something impossible.
Carrying Jesus in us seems impossible. It’s not as if the pregnancy itself is impossible enough, the virgin aspect makes it seem even more impossible, furthermore, Mary’s probably like 14 or 15 when this happens, which makes the trial seem even more impossible. She let’s Elizabeth in on it. Elizabeth beautifully responds, why should the mother of Lord come and visit me? Meanwhile, John the Baptist is inside Elizabeth jumping around because he heard Mary’s voice and Elizabeth felt the Holy Spirit. It is amazing. And it is impossible. Mary responds to the difficult task that’s been to her with nothing but rejoice. She actually breaks into song! (Hard to believe, unless you hang out with James and I during Christmastime, I often do just break into song, ask my housemate and wife.)
Mary gets it again. She doesn’t think she is terribly unworthy of such an honor, she owns it.
Do we rejoice at our impossible situations? Can we see God in them? Do we believe that he will liberate us and use us and send it us into our fullness?
He is mindful of us, where we are, and what we are doing. He doesn’t will everything that happens to us, but we might do well to wonder what he wants to do through us, and rejoice at its difficulty, to be honored by his choice, just like Mary is.
What does God want us to do to respond to the impossible today? The twenty-six that were killed in Connecticut last week offer us an impossible situation. Impossible because it is unfathomable for twenty children to be murdered for most of us (and it is a daily reality for some). But how do we respond? Since most of us do not know the individuals who were affected, passively seems to be the way we do it the best and politely. My friends kept telling everyone to be polite on Facebook this week. But I think we have to actively respond to the baby that’s growing inside of us, to the one that’s going to change the world, and he’ll do so, even if he has to divide you against your friends and family. There are questions to ask about gun control in this country and mental health care too—we need Jesus to born in those areas too. And it does seem impossible. And it does seem frightening.
Let’s keep doing the impossible. Not just the belief that God’s found favor in us, and that through us the whole world will be redeemed, let’s go and actively do that work. That’s go into the belly of the beast and fight for Jesus and do the right thing.
With a wave of his hand, Caesar Augustus decides to perform a census on the whole Roman world. You may be aware of the "error" that occurs in Luke. Though there was a huge census, it didn’t occur in the time of Herod. So the impossibility continues. At this point, you may lose some faith, but I want us to understand Luke's point. I hope we don’t try to harmonize the scripture for our own good feelings. It’s O.K. if Luke made a mistake. That doesn’t mean that Jesus doesn’t save us.
Just like we are so often dominated by our modernistic and scientific (very anti-miracle) interpretation of the scripture, so were the Jews and everyone else in the Roman Empire. That's what Luke's point is. Jesus is being born into an empire and offering something new to it and the world. Caesar is the most powerful man in the Roman Empire and little does know that his rule of fear and oppression is being subverted by a baby who promises to bring peace on earth and good will towards all of us.
Don’t be afraid when God sends you into danger and oppression. Find hope in Jesus.
Jesus is the hope of Mary and Joseph as they struggle to find a place to give birth to him, as they venture, great with Child, to Bethlehem. In the oppression of the world that’s around us, in the danger that surrounds us all of the time, I hope we find hope in Jesus and I hope we birth Jesus in everything. Jesus isn’t just a person with whom we relate, but he is the savior from whom we are transformed. The world changes when we have hope in Jesus, when we allow him to be born in us again and again. When we wait for him. Through our fear, through our anxiety, he calms us, shepherds us, and guides us.
It’s a dark week, and the darkest kind for the families of the victims of the horror in Connecticut. May we have faith that through the darkest depths, we can find hope in a light that a saving baby brings us.