“How can this be?”
Mary speaks these words in Luke’s Gospel in response to the angel’s invitation to be the mother of Jesus. As she understood the world and the workings of the human body, this was impossible. Assured by the messenger that “nothing will be impossible for God” she says yes. Her yes is more a step of faith and trust than an understanding of mind. She chooses to act on the Word of God, in spite of her confusion about how.
In this final week leading up to our annual celebration of the birth of Jesus, we are invited into the same world-changing invitation of the angel. We are invited to believe that we have been chosen by God to be carriers of Jesus into the world today. But how can this be? Where have we heard those words before? Isn’t it true that when God gives us something to do it always seems to be beyond our human capabilities? We are to forgive 70 times seven, we are to love our enemies, we are to lend without expecting anything in return, we are to share with those in need even if our resources are meager, we are to welcome strangers into our communities, we are to love without holding grudges and we are to give our lives for those we believe to be most undeserving. This is not an exhaustive list, but just a beginning. Jesus reminds us that if we have done all this, then there is only one thing remaining. Sell all you have, give the proceeds to the poor, and then follow Him.
How can this be? Like Mary, we take it one step at a time beginning with “let it be done to me according to your will.” We can’t start by trying to figure out logically how this all works out from beginning to end and then act. Any of us who have tried this have discovered what happens. We either do nothing frozen in our need for God to fit our logic or we compromise the Gospel to fit our needs.
God comes to us many times each day with opportunities to respond with “let it be done to me according to your Word.” We may have numbed ourselves to these opportunities by habitually telling ourselves that God would not speak to us like God did with Mary. Advent is a time for reawakening and alertness. What is it that keeps you from even hearing these Godly opportunities? Have you convinced yourself that God can’t use a sinner like you and me? If that is true then you haven’t really heard about St. Paul, St. Peter, the criminal on the cross next to Jesus, and the thousands of others. Why would we be the first generation of disciples of Jesus for who sinfulness is a disqualifying characteristic? Maybe you have convinced yourself that the most counter cultural, radical teachings of Jesus don’t hold any more, since they challenge our comfortable lifestyles. Think again.
When He comes, may He find us doing good!
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.