First Mennonite Church
December 11, 2022
How Can This Be?
Text: Luke 1:26-38
As we follow Luke’s account leading to the birth of Jesus, there are noteworthy features, both about the way he tells his stories and about the characters in them. First, let us remember that Luke was a physician by profession. Therefore, despite his logical approach to life’s biological processes and development, we might wonder: how could he tell us a story that may have raised serious questions for him in the first place? Was Luke so naïve to write down the stories as he got them without thoroughly questioning his sources? The biggest problem might not be about angelic visitations in those days, but what about the virginal conception of Jesus? According the Matthew’s gospel, even Joseph had trouble with it that he was about to walk away from the relationship with Mary.
Secondly, at the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist, the angelic interaction was with an older married man—Zechariah. Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, was not present at that announcement. In Luke’s following account, which is the annunciation of Jesus’ birth, the angel’s interaction was with a young, pledged to be married, but still an unmarried young girl—Mary. Joseph, the groom, was the one absent this time.
In the case of Elizabeth, she was a married woman and wanted to get pregnant, but could not. In Mary’s case, she was unmarried and shouldn’t get pregnant out we wed, but she got, anyway.
Gabriel’s visit with Mary is a familiar story to us. Gabriel was sent by God to the obscure and unimportant village of Nazareth in Galilee. It was such an unimportant village that it is never mentioned in the Old Testament. Not even Josephus, the great Jewish historian, mentions it. And as we may remember, even Nathaniel, one of Jesus’ apostles did not believe anything good could come out from Nazareth (John 1:46).
With everything involved in this account of the annunciation of Jesus’ birth, there is something very important for us to remember about Luke’s Gospel. It was written some 60 years after Jesus had been born. That means, when Luke went around searching and collecting his material, he selected those firsthand accounts, anecdotes, and memories about the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus that were, as the KJV puts it, “things which are most surely believed among us” (1:1). Other versions put it: “things that have been fulfilled among us.” Either ways, as Luke was doing his research, he only chose the most convincing stories or the stories that had proven true about the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. Luke’s criteria about the veracity of the material he collected all had a precise purpose: he was writing a gospel of Jesus Christ. Luke was writing theology, that is: Luke’s task was to explain who God is and how this God relates to human beings and how human beings relate to God. This is where the authority of the scriptures lies. This is where faith in the living God engages the mystery about God that logic and human reason cannot explain. For that reason, despite everything Doctor Luke knew about life development, he sat down to listen to Mary, who for the thousandth time tells what happened to her on that day Gabriel appeared.
So, today, without diminishing the extraordinary and supernatural way the birth of Jesus took place or the complexity of Mary’s dilemma in accepting to become the human vessel by which God entered the world in human form, let us take this moment to consider the implications of Mary’s having to re-tell her story to Luke, a physician. Because, as you might expect, the angel’s word to Mary of what and how things were to happen, were simply impossible, humanly speaking. Just imagine, how many times Mary might had had to tell and retell her story. There must have been many who took Mary at her words, but many others might have rolled their eyes at her. And this is exactly the reason why many even today cannot accept the Christmas story as told in the Bible.
Therefore, to those who have trouble accepting this story, let me tell you: that was precisely the reason Luke wrote his gospel. Luke was writing for those who had difficulty accepting the fact that God can and still relates to us humans. So, he tells us how Mary responded to God when he appeared to her through his angel. The question Mary asked the angel reflects the problem we all have when we feel or believe God is trying to tell us something: How can this be? But more importantly is how she responded: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
But the story Luke tells us about God appearing to Mary, was not only for those who had trouble accepting that God still speaks and interacts with us humans. It is for us who claim to believe God still does. And this where I would for us to consider today.
Because Mary did not shy away from telling her story, despite the fact that it sounded illogical, impossible and to some even a bit crazy, the honest and simple testimony that God still visits and interacts with us was essentially at the heart of the gospel message. As I said earlier, the authority of the Holy Scripture lies in the fact that God still relates to us and we can relate to God. Jesus is where God meets with us and through whom we meet with God. But in order for that message to be heard, we who confess that message is true, need to have the confidence, honesty, and humility Mary had in telling her story.
Let me get to the point: Have you ever felt God speaking to you? Maybe, it was a situation in which you needed guidance or direction on something very important to you. Maybe it happened when you were struggling to give or find forgiveness. Maybe, when you first felt God was calling you to follow him. And in your prayers to God, you got a clear sense of direction, which you believed was God’s leading. Did you ever tell it to someone God was calling or leading you? Maybe you did; but I am certain you felt some apprehension admitting your decision was based on something you felt God was telling you. The truth is that even in those instances where you had a deep conviction it was God leading you, you still feared being wrong or being misunderstood by others. Keeping silent often seems the best approach in those circumstance.
In 1987, my home congregation was going through some ups and downs; so, at the request of my pastor I started praying about the situation. As youth leader, I was asked to help with visiting some church member who were swaying or have stopped attending church altogether. Our church held prayer and fasting service in light of what was happening. One morning, as I was praying, I seemed to have heard a voice telling me, “Pastor, you will be leading the church.” I got scared, and kept it to myself. Shortly after, our pastor was asked by the conference to go to another town to plant a new church. Around December, when everything I had in mind was participating in a youth program in Maryland, here in the US, the congregation found itself in need of a new pastor. At the congregational meeting, four names were put forward as nominees for the pastorate. Mine was one. I was sure I was not going to be called. I was still single at that time. The following month, I was going out of town for about eight months and the others in the ballot were very qualified to take over the pastorate. However, one by one, all of the three others declined their nomination. The only name left was mine. And as we say, “The rest is history.” After I finished my time with the youth program, I came back to my town to lead the church.
Let me tell you, every time I have told this story, I have felt not everyone would believe me when I say, I seemed to have heard a voice telling me I will lead the church. That is because, the idea that God can speak to us is not easily believed. But we need to tell our stories of God dealing and interacting with us.
As we anticipate Christmas and we recall the Christmas story, let us remember Mary’s response to God. She told her story for as long as she lived. Luke must have gotten the birth story of Jesus from Mary. And despite the fact that Luke was a doctor, he knew by all the testimonies surrounding Jesus that God had started a new way of relating to those who are willing to hear the message of Jesus Christ. It is in him that God reaches out to us. It is in Jesus that God speaks to us. And, there might be situations in which the Holy Spirit might speak to us directly. It is our duty, however, to not be shy in telling our story of what we believe God tells us, either through his Word or through the “still small voice” in our heart. So, once again, let us tell others about our experiences with God, even if it might sound strange, naïve, or even crazy. Let us respond like Mary, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word. Amen!