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It was mothering Sunday last week and Jean (my wife), and I spoke from the life of Mary. Particularly focusing in on her call to ‘conceive & give birth to a Son’; and not just any Son and not in the normal way. I realise that what is known as the 'virgin birth’ (or the incarnation) raises questions. If you don’t believe God exists then of course it seems utterly ridiculous; if you do believe God exists (especially God of Bible) then it shouldn’t be too hard to believe that the God who created all things our there (think universe), can create life in there (think womb). Another question that’s raised is, why? Why did God have to do it this way? Well, I’m not going to answer that here (sorry), but here's a link to an article that you might find helpful https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2016/12/08/is-the-virgin-birth-essential/ or I would recommend you reading Christ our Life by Mike Reeves or The Glory of Christ by Peter Lewis, both of which have superb chapters on this very subject.
Rather than focussing in on the meaning of the incarnation, we focussed on the impossibility of the task she was given, how she responded and how it relates to anyone who follows Jesus. During my preparation I came across a quote from Reinhard Bonke who said; “The fundamental nature of Christianity is the art of the impossible”, which I think sums up the Christian life nicely.
So here’s a few thoughts from Luke 1:26-38
1...We’re called to the impossible.
Even the starting point for following Jesus is impossible (for us). Check out the disciples reaction to Jesus as he helps a rich man understand what it means to be his follower (Matthew 19:16-26). Jesus says it’s “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven”, which left the disciples gob-smacked & asking “who then can be saved?”. To which Jesus replied “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”. The message of Jesus is that we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-10), not by our good works, or because of our spiritual prowess, it is His work for us and in us, he initiates and we respond, with grateful hearts and willing lives.
But that’s only the starting point. Then there's the job description. “Go into all the world, make disciples, heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, love God with everything you have, love your neighbours, including your enemies…” and we could go on! If we haven’t got it, this too is impossible (if God isn’t in the equation), and likely raises more questions, as it did with Mary.
2...We question the impossible
Mary responded with a very fair question, “how can this be, since I am a virgin?” She knew how the birds and bees worked, and rightly wondered how on earth this was going to happen. The fact is when God calls he has a habit of getting hold of people who really haven’t got it within themselves to do what he is asking them to do (think Moses, Gideon or Mary).
The apostle Paul knew this and so he writes to the Corinthians saying “Brothers & sisters think of what you were when you were called, not many of you were wise by human standards, or influential, or of noble birth…” (1Corinthians 1:26) In light of this we may ask like Mary, “how can this be since I'm……. (fill in the blank)"; too weak, too nervous, too young, too old, not qualified, can’t speak well, failed too many times… etc. Yes we might question how God can use people like you and me for his purposes in the world, but he does, and thankfully not only does he call us but he also promises to empower us.
3...We’re empowered to do the impossible
In verse 35 God gives Mary a heads up on how this will happen, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”.If we are going to do what God calls us to do then we need to be people who are filled with the Holy Spirit, living in humble-dependence, leaning on Gods power, not looking to our own resources.
Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, knew the power of the Spirit, went around doing good and healing because he was anointed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1, 14; Acts 10:38). The question this raises is, can the same be said of me? Am I as dependent on the Holy Spirit's power in my life as much as Jesus was? Jesus said “apart from me you can do NOTHING” yet he promises as we abide in him we will be fruitful (John 15:1-8) and experience His power and strength at work in our weakness (2Corinthians 12:8-10)
4…We respond to the impossible call
Mary’s response to the impossible call on her life is both beautiful and challenging; she simply says “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (V38) In Mary we see someone who is humble, servant-hearted, obedient and patient; someone who was willing to lay down their life to respond to the call of God; someone who could say with the apostle Paul; "I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24) This too is an appropriate response to the amazing grace of God and again it makes me ask questions about myself.
I’ll end on one final quote I came across in my preparation from Guy Chevreau in a superb book called Turnings; he writes, “The Lord delights in working into our lives all the mercy that we need, for whatever we face. Especially when faced with what seems to be completely beyond our strength, ability or present resources, and when circumstances pose disappointments, hardships and impossible challenges, it is for us to hear the word of the One who ‘holds all things together’ and say with Mary, ‘may it be as you have said.’”