The readings for the fourth Sunday of Advent:
2 Samuel 7:1–11, 16; Magnificat (Luke 1:46b-55); Romans 16:25–27; Luke 1:26–38
“How can this be?” Mary’s words are almost an intrinsic part of the human condition, which through faith we seek to answer.
How can it be that an unwed girl accepts potential disgrace and shame – or worse – to bear a child who will ultimately break her heart?
How can it be that 132 Pakistani schoolchildren are killed in their school? The words of Jeremiah echo through the ages: “Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Mary’s words of acceptance are important – semantics count – because her words indicate not passive submission to a God of imposition, but consent to God’s will. There is a difference between submission and consent, and the whole story of Christ’s incarnation is one of submission with consent rather than imposition of God’s will.
This is what those who have been called fundamentalists (misleadingly) cannot grasp: God does not impose, God invites; Christ did not impose, Christ invited. Those who distort or simply ignore the fundamentals of faith to impose a will that is usually not God’s on others, often with suffering and even death, cannot be called fundamentalists; perhaps they should be called “impositionists.”
Meanwhile, Mary’s consent is part of a larger picture of female engagement by Christ and his followers that seems to have taken the church too many centuries to grasp; yet there is progress as we prepare for the C of E’s first female bishop.
Mary builds a home for God within her body and her heart, in contrast to David’s desire to contain God within a building of his design: trying to impose his will on God, who will have none of it. Nevertheless, God answers him with a riddle that is a covenant for all generations. Much later, Mary answers God’s riddle with a human covenant: a promise to bear God.
“How can this be?” The answer lies in following the life whose delivery is celebrated at Christmas. “For nothing will be impossible with God.”