20 December 2010

Luke 1:26-38

"And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also concieved a son, and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." (v. 37)


Like the doorway of a medieval church (such as this one pictured at San Juan de Ortega in Spain), this week the lectionary paints the picture of the whole birth narrative in very small space. Fifteen months of mystery and anxiety are compressed into one action-packed week of visitations from angels, miraculous births, visits to cousins in the country, treks to ancestral homes and poetic utterances of praise. 

Like Joseph (in yesterday's reading), Mary is visited by an angel. Both accounts suggest that it is a fearful thing to be visited by a messenger of God (the literal meaning of the word 'angel'). But as Joseph was told not to be afraid, so Mary too is reassured (v. 30). And there are parallels too, with other visits from angels and other miraculous births: the sixth month (v. 26) is the sixth month of Elizabeth's carrying John the Baptist. Like Sarah, visited by the three strangers in the tent under the oak trees of Mamre (Genesis 18), Zechariah has laughed at the thought of his wife, an old and barren woman, giving birth. Mary, here, presented with this news, is incredulous: "How can this be?" she says (v. 34). The answer is that "nothing will be impossible with God" (v. 37). 

The echoes in the story are not coincidences. How ever difficult it may be for us to entertain a connection between fertility and God's grace (and how ever much those who are infertile may experience a sense of loss and shame) the story of God's dealings with human beings is full of God removing seemingly immovable obstacles in order to rescue us from ourselves. So Sarah's age is no barrier to making descendents of Abraham, and Mary's virginity is no barrier to the Scripture being fulfilled (Isaiah 11) that salvation shall come from the House of David (vv. 27, 32). 

The implication is not so much that barrenness is disgrace which God chooses either to fix or not, but that in seeking and saving the beloved lost human race, God will stop at nothing. God will even find a way to offer the world God's very self in flesh and blood (v. 35). 

To Ponder

In your experience how might this passage sound to those struggling with infertility?

In your own life how have you held together the statement, 'nothing is impossible with God' together with unanswered prayers?

What experiences have given you a sense of the God who stops at nothing to seek you out and communicate to you that you are beloved?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jane Leach

Jane writes on ministry, pastoral supervision and pilgrimage..