Scripture: Luke 1:26-38
Key verse: (37) “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Reflection: “How can this be?” That’s Mary’s question. Perhaps it is ours. How can this be? Some pose this question from a scientific perspective. How is it biologically possible for Mary to have a child? Certainly that’s the starting point for Mary. Yet once Gabriel explains God has conceived this miraculous plan, Mary is no longer concerned with the science of the process. Rather, she embraces her call in the holy mystery unfolding. Too often we get caught up in the science and historicity of this story, refusing to submit to the wonder and mystery of it. We draw up battle lines with “belief in the virgin birth” as the front of our holy wars. Fundamentalists affirm their belief. Atheists reject what they see as “fantasy.” In the process both fail to recognize they are opposite sides of the same modernist coin, reducing truth to scientific—historical categories.
Perhaps virgin birth is not meant to be explained, but rather to call forth our wonder. French philosopher Paul Ricoeur spoke of the “second naiveté” – not the naiveté of the child, but the openness to wonder and mystery. Ricoeur called into question the extension of rationality to all levels of our existence. He suggests we must fight against the “reduction from the mysterious to the problematic.” In other words, we must not reduce the virgin birth to a problem to resolve, but rather a mystery to embrace. Ricoeur rightly diagnosed that if we accept truth only as science comprehends it, then the world becomes the realm of the manageable-“the universally available”—and we believe we can control it. He called this the “desacralization” of the world. We might call it, “secularization.” This modernist thinking has left us with a world void of meaning, a hollowness to life that can explain almost every how, but has no access to the question, “Why?”
Why is the question born of these sacred stories through which we understand the world. Ricoeur described the power of these stories as “mythicopoetic.” He writes, “Human beings are always sustained by our mythicopoetic core; always created and recreated by a generative word. I believe that the fundamental theme of sacred story is this awakening and this call, into the heart of existence, of the imagination of the possible.” Or as Mary put it, “How can this be?” This is not a scientific question, not a question of the means by which this is to happen, but a question of meaning, a question of possibility, a question of imagination. How can this be? How can the Almighty God of the universe choose to come among us through a baby born to this unwed young woman from Nazareth? How can the one who will redeem the world be born in her? How can this be?
Of Mary’s question, Karl Barth writes, “There is no answer, no explanation to Mary’s question. As answer there is only God…God will make it possible.” Ultimately, that’s enough for Mary. “Let it be with me according to your word.” She says, “Yes,” to a plan only God could conceive, and the redemption of the world unfolds.
“How can this be?” We ask. Nothing is impossible with God. Of this, Barth concludes, “We only notice God’s omnipotence when we do as Mary does, when we grant, concede, agree: ‘Let it be with me according to your Word.’ With this we acknowledge what God has said will be carried out.” Which is to say, with this we acknowledge, nothing is impossible with God. Welcome to the world of the imagination of the possible. That, beloved, is the essence of faith.
Prayer: With our sister, Mary, we often wonder, “How can this be?” O God. We see our broken world filled with struggle and suffering; we contemplate the challenges of our own lives, we consider the pain of those we love and we wonder, “How can this be?” In love, you join us in the midst of this. You come among us in ways beyond our wildest imaginations. Open us, O God to your generative Word. Open us to the imagination of the possible, that we might be your agents of hope, for nothing is impossible with you. Give us the faith of Mary, the faith to say, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].