In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. - Luke 1:26-38
|John Collier, The Annunciation|
Think about that for a minute. Anything can happen. Better yet, things can happen in whatever way God wants them to -- God, the Creator of all things, whose hands we cannot tie.
Oh, sure, God lets us tie the divine hands, at least for a little while. And God has created a universe that roils away in endless change, and some of that change is, for us, total disaster. It's these two features of God that cause us, quite often, to find serious fault with God: God lets evil things happen, and God lets us do evil things.
Maybe it's all just random, and we have absolutely no control.
Maybe it's all fixed, with the same net result -- we have no agency at all.
But I believe the reality of the universe is somewhere in the messy in-between. Here we find ourselves, self-aware creatures who are made by God and yet are not God, so we get to decide what to do. It's way too much responsibility. It's overwhelming, and we are not at all qualified to make decisions that affect the rest of the universe. Except that we are qualified, because God has made us qualified. And we can't help ourselves: we will and do affect the universe merely by existing.
And then, somewhere in the middle of all this mess, God has come among us, to be one of us, to experience truly what it means to be a created being.
I wrote yesterday that the specificity is the scandal. If God could only be with us as a human being for thirty short years, those thirty years had to be placed somewhere on the timeline, and somewhere on earth. Sometimes first-century Palestine doesn't feel like enough. Why couldn't Jesus be here, and now? Why couldn't Jesus be in the past as well, in other places on the globe? Instead we have no archaeological evidence, short of what later generations wrote about him and the buildings people put up in which to worship God through the worship of him. We have no photographs or video. We don't know the sound of his voice, or the cut of his beard, or the nature of his embrace.
Is that what matters?
What we know is that our Jewish ancestors met in Jesus a man who shocked their monotheistic sensibilities to the core. It was obvious to them that Jesus should be worshiped. But to worship a human being? And then they had these experiences after his death. He wasn't gone after all. He was with them in fleeting glimpses, and those glimpses often involved welcoming strangers and sharing food together.
May your Christmas dinner be such a table at which Jesus is experienced to be present, even if you only catch a glimpse. Watch for it. Let yourself be surprised by the presence of the one who is always present, appearing in flesh, appearing in the people -- not just family, but the most shocking strangers -- who are in flesh right next to you. Prepare a room for the one who made you, the one who is also preparing a room for you. Set the table for your dinner guest, the guest who is also both the host and the meal.
God is coming to be with us in all our specificity. If you don't look, you might miss God. Stay awake, watch, and love.