Friday, December 22, 2017

4th Sunday of Advent Yr B (Luke 1:26-38) Nothing is impossible to God

Before I became a priest I worked in sales  for a couple of years. In one of the places I worked I overheard a conversation between two people about Christmas. One of them was speaking about Mary conceiving by the power of the Spirit and how it was impossible. She said, ‘It’s a nice idea, but I mean it’s just impossible!’ and she dismissed it as not true.

Is it impossible? Medically and scientifically it is impossible. According to the laws of nature it simply can not happen. So why are we expected to believe this story? Mary herself had the same reaction to the angel. She said, ‘But how can this be, since I am a virgin?’ It seems that she didn’t intend to have children, or else why would she have said that since she was already legally married to Joseph, but they weren’t yet living together, which was part of the Jewish culture.

What the angel said to her was, that this would happen by the power of God. God would intervene in nature’s natural course and to prove it to her, or as a sign to her, he told her about the miracle that God had already performed for Elizabeth, who was too old to have children and who had been barren. Elizabeth was now six months pregnant with John the Baptist, even though she was too old to have children. So the angel was saying to her, ‘I realise that this is impossible by your way of thinking, but that doesn’t mean God can’t do it and Elizabeth is the proof.’ So Mary said, ‘OK, I accept,’ even though she didn’t understand how it would happen and that’s what faith is. When we can no longer understand something, then we have to believe it or reject it. But why should we accept such an idea? Because we believe it comes from God. God presents us with these mysteries and invites us to believe, on his authority. God is the one asking us to accept it.

Image from the Hubble telescope
Several years back I was asked to do the wedding of a friend of mine. We were in elementary school together and now he is a pathologist. I asked him if he would be receiving Holy Communion, as I never like to presume. He said he would like to, but that he didn't believe in the resurrection of Christ. He said that he could not accept it as a scientist. He wasn't trying to be offensive, but he was just telling the truth. I admired him for his honesty. Every other day he is doing autopsies and he is being asked to believe that a man who died came back to life after three days! He knew that it was scientifically impossible, but we are asked to go beyond what we understand as being possible, because God asks us to.

There are many parts of our faith which we question and because we can’t understand them it is tempting to disregard them. We don’t understand what happens in the mass, how it is that Jesus becomes present. We don’t understand how Jesus could be God and man. We say that to call something a mystery, is a cop-out. What we are saying is, ‘Since I can’t understand this, it must not be true.’ How small minded we can be. I don’t understand exactly how my car engine works, or how the computer works, or how nuclear power works, but I know it works and I take it on someone else’s authority and because of the evidence.

Christmas isn’t just a nice story. It is a true story, a lot of which is beyond our understanding, but we believe it because God asks us to accept it on his authority. There is nothing wrong with believing something even if you don’t fully understand it. That’s what faith is. We have faith that what God is telling us is true.

In today’s readings, God’s promises from centuries before are starting to be fulfilled through Mary. God promised David almost a thousand years before Jesus, that He would send a great king, whose reign would last forever and in the Gospel, this is the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise. Christmas is about God being faithful to his promises.

I do not understand, but I believe.

I am the handmaid of the Lord, said Mary. Let what you have said be done to me.’

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