Sometimes we fall into patterns of speaking for God. We’re sure we know what God wants and what God needs, what God will and won’t do. This affects who we hear popular Scripture verses- we’ve heard it before-we know. Mary’s words are well known. But today let’s slow down and let God speak anew, and hear them in the midst of the bigger story. In Samuel, we hear people are sure God needs a special house, the best that money can buy, no expense to be spared to make the place where God meets us perfect. This is the top priority. We need to make this happen for God to be here in the right way. But what do we hear from God?
“Who is that really about? YOU’RE GOING TO TELL ME KNOW WHAT IS NECESSARY FOR ME? TELL ME WHAT I NEED AND WHEN TO SHOW UP? I COMMAND THE VERY FORCES OF NATURE AND EVERYTHING YOU THINK YOU HAVE AT YOUR DISPOSAL. You live in MY shadow. Remember how this equation works.”
In a different way this happened for Zechariah, a priest who was sure he knew what God was about. His story happens just before Mary’s. He’s in the temple, in the holy of holies, a place that MAYBE in their lifetime a priest would get one shot to being the one who enters there. Each year they drew lots for who could enter. This year, it was Zechariah. But If it’d been by popular vote, it wouldn’t have been him. Because he and Elizabeth never had any children. Years passed, prayers seemed unanswered. What was wrong with them, people asked? They must be out of favor with God. So I wonder if it felt like odd for him-go in and offer the usual worship in the usual way at the usual time with the usual trappings. He knows how this goes, what’s expected. It’s supposed to be most sacred space, but when you look around, it’s empty-just fading smoke of the incense and silence. No visible new possibilities. And maybe you’re not sure if God REALLY IS here. But then the angel Gabriel shows up. Now when you’re in THE place where you say God dwells, it shouldn’t surprise you that God’s messenger appears. But when you’ve been going through the motions all these years, maybe that’s asking a lot. When Gabriel reveals that FINALLY Elizabeth is going to have a child, chosen to receive God’s grace, Zechariah asks a question. HOW CAN I BE SURE THAT WHAT YOU’RE TELLING ME IS REAL? How will I know? After a lifetime of dedicated worship he has a crisis of faith. “If I can’t comprehend it, it must not be true.” Zechariah offers a proclamation of impossibility.
When we wrestle with our doubts, fears and questions, sometimes we too try to predetermine God’s plan and make God manageable. But as we try to make God be our size, it’s usually too small. And what we long for we never find. We’re sure we know and don’t expect God to throw us a curve ball. When what we want shows up in unexpected ways it can throw us. We wonder whether it’s real. How can we be sure? We need proof. Because we’ve got God figured out. And certain things are just NOT possible. Certain things seem too big to be changed. These are the places where we have a crisis of faith- where our proclamation of impossibility overshadows us. Whatever is troubling you and giving you no peace, whatever is overshadowing you- don’t be afraid! Hear again the story of Mary.
Gabriel, God's angel of revelation was sent by God to a tiny, insignificant place to a young woman engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. She was probably 12 or 13 years old and certainly too young to know much- her name was Mary. Coming to her, the angel said- Greetings, gracified girl! You’ve been chosen to receive God's grace. The Lord is with you!"
Mary was awfully confused, even troubled by his words and began to wonder what kind of greeting this was. What did it mean? The angel said- "Listen! You will become pregnant and will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus. His name will mean "God saves!"This one, he will be Great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor, David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end!" This will begin to happen NOW.
As hard as never expecting change is, THIS is radically life altering stuff. But Mary doesn’t ask, “How can I be sure that what you’re saying is true?” or how CAN this be? Mary said - How WILL this be?
She starts from a very different perspective.
And it’s not about whether it will happen but how. Her question isn’t about whether she thinks it’s possible.
She focuses on God’s power.
The angel replied, "the Holy Spirit will come and the power and glorious presence of God will overshadow you.”
God will overshadow you.
As I pondered these words, I’m struck by how small Mary is at this moment.
And she grasps her smallness and its impossibility.
But she also grasps what the priests in Samuel don’t get until God bellows and what Zechariah and older, wiser men dismiss.
She gets the equation. God is unfathomably large. And she proclaims this greatness.
Her very life was threatened by this news but she proclaimed God’s greatness in the face of confusion.
That’s more than accepting the words she hears, she’s trusting who God is and what God can and will do.
And she then hears of God’s rhema.
Rhema is a Greek word that can mean “word”, or “thing.” But it can also mean enactment. None of God’s rhema will be impossible.
This is a proclamation of possibility. God’s possibility.
None of God's words, will be impossible.
None of the things promised will be unable to happen
None of what God enacts into being will fail.
These words move fear into hope and re-establish the equation. God has chosen to act with favor. Not because of who Mary or any of us are. We’re favored because God says so. This is God’s word for us too. And our response shouldn’t be “how will we know?”
We called to live in faith and say-may what you will be so, Lord. Trusting in God’s power but also God’s reasons- that every action of the God who overshadows us is about grace. We too are “gracified.”
We receive this grace from a God who isn’t distant, but reaching out and acting toward us in love. Choosing to be more fully known in the center of our world and struggles, and reminding us God’s power overshadows all our fears and doubts. Giving us faith to believe it is so even when it looks different than we expect.
This is what Jesus brings into all of our places of longing and wonder.
Peace and life, hope and joy to us.
Not just words, but God’ possibility happening TO US.
Let it be according to your will O Lord!