“Let what you have said be done to me.”
Thursday, 17 December 2020
Luke tells us that the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a young virgin called Miriam (Mary) betrothed to a man named Joseph of the house of David. While all this is familiar, we should stop a moment and contemplate the extraordinary fact we are being asked to believe – the Almighty God, the King of the Universe and creator of the cosmos and all that is in it, decided to intervene in human history at a particular point in space and time.
It was not just any space and time, but a remarkably unremarkable place and time, namely in Palestine, on the outskirts of the Roman Empire. And in a small provincial village called Nazareth far from the centre of that nation, Jerusalem, which would only have qualified as a small town anyway. All this happened at a time when the Romans subjugated the Jewish people, who hardly had any say over their destiny and future. They were a conquered people of little significance.
This is called the “scandal of particularity”. It is a huge stumbling block for many modern people of the twenty-first century. Some may accept the existence of God and a grand design for the universe based upon scientific knowledge and understanding of the expansion of the cosmos. But it is too much for them to believe in a God who could intervene at such an insignificant moment and such an unimportant place and take the shape of a tiny baby born to Jewish parents who were hardly literate in a village of no importance such as Nazareth. This requires a massive leap of faith which many people throughout history have been unable to make.
God asks this same leap of faith of Miriam, a young girl of probably no older than 15. She was asked to take on a responsibility incomprehensible to her at the time. The story tells us that the Angel Gabriel assured her that the spirit would come upon her, that she would conceive and bear a son, who would be holy and would be called the Son of God. What all that could have meant to a young girl of that time and place we have no idea. What we are told is that, after some questioning, Mary said: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me.”
Mary’s acceptance of the gentle request of God set in motion events of enormous significance for her, her world, and indeed ours. What this tells us about God is remarkable; that our God is one who respects human freedom, who asks quietly and humbly for our co-operation, and who acts through our acceptance, working wonders. There are surely many other ways God could have chosen to intervene in history; yet he chose this way, through this humble person, in this place and time.