“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary, and having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!… And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS… Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God… For with God nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1:26-27; 31; 34-35;37 (NKJV)
Most of us can’t remember a Christmas without that story being told in one way or another. We’re reminded every year of how it all started, and review once again Mary’s fascinating encounter with Gabriel. Questions always arise in our minds, and largely remain there—simple things, like what did Gabriel look like? I’m pretty sure he didn’t look like the angels we depict today, that he didn’t have wings growing out of his back – and given God’s opinion about cross-dressing, was not attired in some flowing, feminine nightgown looking thing. He looked unquestionably masculine, whatever that means—got that…, but we still don’t know what his countenance was really like. His arrival was unannounced, unexpected, and shocking. Beyond that, we don’t know much. In spite of him urging her not to be afraid, I think Mary’s adrenaline glands got a workout in that conference, because in spite of his attempt to calm her down, she didn’t need a DNA sample to be convinced that he was not from around there—in some pretty serious ways.
There are lots of missing little details that create curiosity, simple things, like was it daytime, or at night—inside a house, or in some secluded place outside? How big was he? Was he just average, or maybe so tall he couldn’t have fit inside the house anyway? If it was nighttime, did he glow? After all, when Moses, a regular human being, hung out with God for 40 days, he glowed for a while afterward—imagine what Gabriel could have looked like after hanging around with God for who knows how long? But assuming that he wasn’t glowing at the time, what was his complexion like? Did he have a beard? Was his hair long, or short? Oh wait—we like to make aliens bald headed—was he bald? If he had hair, did he have one of those ‘old guy’ hair, and ‘young guy’ face looks? Did he smile and have normal looking teeth? Were his eyes like ours? Whatever he looked like, I think it’s pretty clear that Mary didn’t question whether she was in the presence of a more-than-human representative of God.
Gabriel was an angel on a mission, ant their exchange centered on the announcement he was sent to deliver. Mary responded by offering a personal revelation that made the whole idea seem quite impossible. “But…,” she insisted, “There’s a basic and necessary part of this whole child-bearing thing that I have no experience with.” “Not to worry,” Gabriel basically replied, “the Holy Spirit of God is directly involved in this project. We might say that He’s got it covered—and, will soon have you ‘covered’ as well.” He affirmed the divine outcome with this…
“That Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”
Further reassurance was offered with the news that God had given her cousin Elizabeth a son in her old age, a fulfillment of prophecy made hundreds of years ago.
Gabriel left Mary with two profound and encouraging pieces of truth. In his opening introduction, he informed her that God was “with” her. Then he concluded with this confident seal, “…with God, nothing shall be impossible.” Mary responded with a simple statement of surrender, “Behold the servant of the Lord.” Then he apparently left. I can’t help wondering what her expectations were at that point. Was Gabriel going to provide any contact information? Was he going to pop back in and say, “If you have any residual questions, call me”? Was he going to give her a projected itinerary? Was an appointment going to be set up for her big encounter with the Holy Spirit? Would she be getting a new dress for the occasion? Was her hair OK? What about other details, like, how she was going to be able to avoid being stoned as an adulteress? Is he going to drop in on Mom and Dad?
What an impact it must have had on the nature and content of her prayers, and even more so as the saga unfolded. Gabriel did his impressive thing – and then left. “OK, ‘nothing is impossible,’” she might have repeated to herself as the promises of God began to run headlong into the realities of life, and there would be times when they didn’t seem to fit. For instance, Mary’s prayer time may have struggled with it. “Nothing impossible, God? You can make virgins pregnant, but you couldn’t manage to deal with this whole tax issue? They’re about to drag us off to Bethlehem!—Bethlehem?” “Nothing impossible? You sent that strange looking guy to find me, but you couldn’t send him ahead to arrange a hotel room? One look at him could have cleaned out the whole inn.” “Nothing impossible? Then why am I stuck in this cave giving birth by myself, with no help except a guy who never saw anything born with less than four legs?” “Nothing impossible? You couldn’t do a cradle? I’ve got to lay my (our) Son in a feed trough?” “Nothing impossible? A bed would have been nice—and how about some help with pain management?”
Now, as then, “nothing impossible” doesn’t mean ‘every possible comfort will be provided’, at least not here—not yet. God ultimately resolved all of Mary’s unanswered questions in Gabriel’s declaration, “God is with you…” As it was for her, it is for us … Christmas is a collision between our story and His story, between our pain and His glory. He brought Mary – and us – a grand impossibility that would make everything else possible, a single living answer to life’s endless parade of questions.
© 2015 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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