This past Sunday, the last before Christmas, we heard the story of the Annunciation from Luke’s Gospel. You know, the story about how the Archangel Gabriel appears to the young Mary, asking if she will be the mother of Jesus. It’s a story that makes a lot of people uncomfortable in part because many modern people consider the whole notion of angels showing up and announcing things to be rather fanciful, and in part because it gets us into that whole virgin birth thing which seems to many people even more unlikely than an angel showing up.
Yet when we get bogged down in this part of the story, we lose the forest for the trees; we miss the point. While the author of Luke’s Gospel probably wasn’t tripped up by angelic visits and virgin births in the way that people these days tend to be, I don’t think that he intended these to be the parts of his story people would focus on primarily. I think Luke’s focus was on the answer that Mary gives to the angel: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your will.”
This deceptively simple answer contains an entire theological world within it. The God who is revealed in Mary’s response is a God who does not force people to do his will like some petty dictator. Rather, it is a God who invites, who initiates a relationship and makes a request. It is a God who seeks to partner with a human being in order to bring about something important. And the human being who is revealed in Mary’s response is not someone who stands impotent before the power of a mighty God but rather is a person who has integrity and the power to choose and whose integrity and choice are respected by God. In telling us this story of the annunciation, Luke is making a profound theological statement about the relationship between God and humanity, and the essence of that relationship is revealed as partnership. Or, what in theological language has been called synergy. We might sum it up this way: the work of God in the world is accomplished through a freely chosen partnership between God and human beings.
It is important to note that the Roman Catholic doctrine that eventually arose that declared Mary to be without personal sin came along a very long time after Luke’s story. Early Christians never held such notions of Mary, and the Eastern Christian churches (the Orthodox churches) have always been highly critical of that particular development. Why? Because it removes Mary from the body of humanity, it makes her into some kind of aberration and it implies that a “normal” human being could not have done what Mary did.
Luke, I feel certain, would not have liked that idea of Mary being sinless because it would weaken considerably the statement I think he was seeking to make: that if Mary could choose partnership with God to accomplish the work of bringing Jesus into the world, then any one of us can choose partnership with God to bring Christ into the world in our own particular way, according to our own particular calling.
As we celebrate Christmas this year, we might ask ourselves, “What is God inviting me into? How might I give birth to Christ anew in my heart? How might I be invited to be Christ’s hands and heart in the world?” For, like Mary, we have a royal vocation: to become God’s partners in the on-going work of healing humanity and the rest of creation.
May Christmas be to you a blessing this year and an opportunity for you to renew your vocation as a bearer of Christ.