The story begins as broad as can be, in the infinite and eternal presence of God. A heavenly messenger named Gabriel is assigned a task. One imagines this “secret agent” receiving his mission details on a wall-sized screen:
- Planet Earth
- Region of Galilee
- City of Nazareth
- House of David
- Man named Joseph
- His wife-to-be
- Virgin named Mary
Within one sentence (1:26-27), the scope has been reduced from the heavenly throne room to an engaged teenager. Mere verses later (1:31-33), this zoom feature reverses, and we rapidly ascend from a young woman’s womb:
- A peasant son
- Name of Jesus
- Ascension to greatness
- Son of Most High
- Throne of David
- House of Jacob
- Kingdom without end
In mere moments, we have moved from infinite glory, to impoverished adolescence, back to eternal dominion.
This dramatic zooming in and zooming out creates an hourglass shape within this text, drawing our eyes quite naturally to the narrow neck in the middle. Within that precious place, we witness an unusual dialog between a mighty messenger and an illiterate teenage girl.
As I read this exchange, a few observations arise:
In the face of a miraculous visitation, Luke surprises us by specifying that Mary was “greatly troubled at the saying”. In fact, she “tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be”. Her mind rolled around – not the angel’s wings but his words.
What it might mean that she was favored by God? What it might mean that he was “with her”?
How many of us have obsessed over the outrageous thought that God might look upon us affectionately? That he might concoct costly plans that would see us blessed? Perhaps it would do all of us well to try on – like a shawl upon our shoulders – the heavenly hello: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
- What if there is no hidden message here, no mystery to discern?
- What if God simply adores you and draws near with His favor?
It would seem that Mary’s childlike faith allowed her to quickly engage this truth without obsessing over the “why”.
Mary was young, but she wasn’t dumb. Her one recorded question is as sensible as they come: “How will this be?” The angel’s message is nonsense. There can be no son. Unopened wombs and unfertilized eggs deliver no such thing. Even if a son were produced, what series of miracles might be necessary to raise a peasant boy to a position of eternal dominion?
Gabriel’s response: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Heavenly might will minimize your insufficiency. Yahweh will supply such voluminous power that your empty hands will be rendered insignificant.
Mary’s reply displays an astonishing child-like ability to say to God, “That’s good enough for me.”
In contrast to my frequent obsession of wondering how God will possibly complete His work in my life or my church or my world, young Mary moves onward in undiluted trust: “Let it be to me according to your word.”
So back to the hourglass.
Its upper portion represents all the “why” questions we feel unable to surrender:
- Why does God love us?
- Why would He choose us?
- Why would He bless us?
Some of us have wasted years seeking by reason answers that can only be discovered by revelation.
The bottom portion contains all those persistent “how” questions:
- How can God use me?
- How will He work things “for the good”?
- How will He keep His promises?
Some of us have wasted years questioning His might or critiquing His means towards the ends He has promised.
Within the slight neck of this Luke 1 hourglass, young Mary provides a powerful testimony. And the mother of Christ counsels the followers of Christ.
If you have only three letters to govern the rest of your path with Christ:
- Let them not be W-H-Y.
- Let them not be H-O-W.
- Let them simply be Y-E-S.