A simple sentence can change everything.
Words of affirmation. Words of belief. Words of commitment. Words of faith. Words of loyalty. Words of courage. Words of conviction. Words of humility. Words of love. Humans have the ability to speak new realities into existence with their words. And that ability comes via the grace of God.
In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1 verses 26-38, a teenage girl shows us this truth.
“I want to believe.” This is the sentiment that Mary conveys, like she’s Agent Mulder in the X-Files, and as she is approached by an extraterrestrial, no less.
And in this interaction, the thing that perplexes Mary is not that angels exist — or that they have intelligible names — but it’s the greeting that Gabriel first speaks to her:
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
In this moment, Mary finds out that she is favored by God, that God is with her. And in the next few moments, she’s going to find out a lot more shocking info:
- This alien knows her name.
- She — an ordinary teenager — is going to have God’s baby.
- The baby is going to be a boy. (Side note, this has to be the most impressive gender reveal party ever.)
- The baby — God’s son, Jesus — will be the Messiah.
For most people, this would be a lot to take in all at once. But Mary is very pragmatic, and she is analyzing the words of an inter-dimensional being, so her response is a very scientific one. She responds “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” A technical question, no less.
Which means, at least on the face of things, that Mary tacitly believes that this celestial being before her is indeed a divine messenger. There must be something inherently obvious about Gabriel that made Mary believe that he was sent by God, because she doesn’t seem to have that shocked, Will Smith in Men in Black kind of reaction to Gabriel.
I’ve often wondered if an angel appeared to me, what would be the thing that would make me sure that it was indeed an angel. I had a professor at Princeton, Richard Fenn, who said that once he was hospitalized, and lying in his hospital bed, he looked up and thought he saw an angel. Later, he deduced that what he had thought was an angel was actually his wife.
While that was a flattering thing to say about his spouse, I later asked him, “Dr. Fenn, what if it turns out that God actually did send an angel to you?” Fenn replied, “Well, then, when I finally meet God, I’ll just have to apologize and say that I’m sorry, but I thought the angel was my wife.”
It seems simple enough…
But that kind of interaction raises a larger question: would you or I be aware enough to know that God was sending us a message, if one was sent to us? Would we recognize God’s messenger if we saw one? Was Gabriel a being that others could see, or was there a Dr. Who type space rift, a thin place in time and matter that only Mary could see into? We don’t know.
What we do know is that she takes Gabriel at his word. Instead of being paralyzed by fear, she just wants to understand some of the practicalities of the situation. Specifically, how the biological mechanics will work. A very reasonable question, given what’s been presented to her.
To paraphrase Gabriel answer, he answers the question essentially with, “Well, you know… I mean, it’s God.” Which, frankly, is the best way to present information to someone that is theologically overwhelming. He doesn’t skirt the question, mind you. He just gives the broad strokes as to what will happen. He then also throws in the comparison to Mary’s relative Elizabeth, who was thought to be barren in her old age but whom God gave a pregnancy as well. All as if to say, “It doesn’t matter what a person’s age is, Mary. God can work through them. God can work through you.”
This leads Gabriel to a statement that seems convincing to Mary, and that she probably held in her heart for years to come; Gabriel concludes by saying, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Later, in his ministry, Jesus says something similar to onlookers in Luke 18:27. After his tough public conversation with the rich young ruler, he responds to the crowd, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” It seems plausible that he learned this lesson from his mother, who in an instant was presented with a new reality that she could either embrace or reject.
And we don’t talk about that possibility much either. Mary could have looked Gabriel straight in his angel eyes and said, “Heck no. It’s been a long day. I’m like 13 years old. I’m like out of here.” But she doesn’t do that. She changes her Facebook relationship status to “It’s complicated” and she replies, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” One minute, she doesn’t know about Jesus at all. In the next minute, she is affirming a commitment to know Jesus in a way that no one else would know him for the next nine months.
Nine months of growing in her relationship with the savior in a unique and dynamic way.
It would not be nine months without risk. She would risk social disdain because of the unconventionality of what was about to happen to herShe would risk relational isolation from her fiancé and her friends and community. Her comfort would be upended.
And she’d do it all because of her love for God. She’d do whatever it took to be in relationship with Jesus. And once she had a life with Jesus, her life would never, ever be the same.
Let me ask you: by comparison, what has your last nine months looked like with Jesus?
In the last nine months, there has definitely been risk for us all. If you’ve engaged with others, there has probably been social disdain. There has likely been isolation. Your comfort has been upended. Our lives now will never be the same.
And nine months ago, you and I had the same choice that we have today. We essentially have the same decision that Mary had to make: to choose to live this life with and for Jesus, to try and work according to the word of God, and to seek favor with God. Or to seek separation from God and go it alone.
Over the last nine months, what have you chosen? Have grown in your relationship with God? Can you testify as to how God has been working in your life? Have you, like Mary, questioned how will God do this or how did God do that?
I think the thing that we often miss about this story with Mary — because we want to get caught up with the sensationalism of aliens and sex scandals and atypical situations — is that the basic proposition that Gabriel is presenting to Mary is a choice that you and I have on a day-to-day basis. Do you want to know Jesus in a way that only you can know him?
You are unique. There is no one exactly like you in the cosmos. There is no one who has your exact combination of gifts mixed with your contextual experience. You are a God-breathed miracle.
And that means that your relationship with Jesus is unique as well. You aren’t too young or too old work in God’s plan, but you are essential.
Only Mary could be Jesus’ mother. And only you can do what God has planned for you to do.
Maybe you’ve never realized that before. Or maybe you’ve just gone through all of the ritualistic church motions throughout your life but you’ve never really made a sincere commitment to Christ. Or maybe you’ve grown closer to Christ over the last nine months than you ever have before, and now, you want to take your relationship to that next level. Or maybe, like Mary, you’ve got questions.
No matter your situation, presented to you right now is the message from God that God wants to be in relationship with you. It’s a Gift: you are destined to be in relationship with Christ.
Like Mary, may we speak new realities into existence with our very words as we commit ourselves to God, saying this simple sentence: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Reality Changing Observations
1. What words do you need to speak to bring about a new reality in your life?
2. What goals have you set and accomplished over the past nine months?
3. What goals and objectives do you have planned for the next nine months?