For the first time this morning, after reading the story of Jesus’ birth foretold, I heard Mary ask the angel, “How?”
Before she said, “Yes,” Mary asked, “How?”
“How will this happen?” she asked.
Scared half out of her wits by the angel’s sudden appearance and faced with the impossible, she asks the first and only relevant question that pops into her head: “How?”
Mary, even Mary, the mother of God, asks God, “How?”
Somehow that gives me comfort.
The angel didn’t scold Mary, “How dare you ask God ‘How!'” or patronize her question with: “Oh! No worries. God will take care of that!”
No. The angel told her to not be afraid then told her that her impossible was God’s possible. That her impossible was God’s playground. The angel explained to Mary how God’s Holy Spirit would cover her and that anything was possible with God. The angel even gave her the example of her cousin Elizabeth, way beyond the age of childbearing, was six months pregnant. The angel then stayed and waited. Waited with Mary until she had given an answer.
Only after Mary says, “Yes,” does the angel leave and Mary’s waiting begins. For nine months Mary waits.
While the Savior forms inside her, she waits.
She waits as her belly begins to expand and her friends begin to shrink because she is pregnant and unwed. She waits as the Roman government imposes registration and taxation that require her and Joseph to travel 40 miles in the last trimester of her pregnancy over the rough rocky hills from Nazareth to Bethlehem. While Joseph searches the over-crowded, noisy, chaotic, barely-room-to-breathe city of Bethlehem, Mary waits. In the final moments before birth, she waits, not in a safe, soft bed, but in a barn surrounded by strangers.
Starting this Sunday (November 29) until Christmas, we’re in the season of waiting known as Advent. It’s a time when we look both ways. We look back at the first advent, the birth of Christ, and we look forward to the second Advent when Jesus will return.
Meanwhile, we wait.
We lose friends.
We survive government decrees.
We travel rocky roads.
We’re caught up in the hustle and bustle of life with barely enough room to breathe.
We’re stuck somewhere in between looking back and looking forward and we wait and ask “How?”
“How can I possibly find peace in the middle of this chaotic world?”
“How long must I bear this grief or shame before joy comes?”
“How can I restore hope when I feel so desperate?”
“How will I ever love myself or the other person again?”
One day last week, I tried to count how many times I started a sentence with, “How?” and after about 30 in the space of one hour, I stopped counting.
We ask “How?” hoping the answer will provide the understanding and the understanding will bring peace. And yet Paul, in his Philippian letter, said real peace, the kind that can keep our hearts and minds, surpasses all understanding.
If there’s a peace beyond understanding, then maybe there’s a hope and a joy and a love beyond understanding as well.
Contrary to the romanticized nativity scenes depicted on glittery Christmas cards, all was not calm or bright or silent when God entered humanity. When God entered humanity, when God became a human heart and a human brain, it was right smack dab in the middle of real life questions.
Before Mary conceived, she first asked “How?” If Mary, the mother of God, can ask questions, then I probably can too. And it’s okay.
The answer to the question of “How?” is the same today as it was when Mary asked it.
The Holy Spirit will cover me. God waits until I whisper “Yes.” Then I wait. And trust.
Trust. That all things are possible with God.