Scripture reading: Luke 1:26-38
“She was startled by what the angel said and tried to figure out what this greeting meant. The angel told her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” Luke 1:29-30 GW
With the appearance of the Omicron virus there seems to be no end to fear in the Covid-19 pandemic. We are in dire need for the vaccine of God’s agape love – it is only perfect love that cast out all fear. Omicron is but another messenger to open the eyes of the world to see how the sins of greed, lust, and pride have led to worship of the idols of money, sex, and power. When our hearts are hardened, we cannot listen to the sweet sound of God’s amazing grace. We cannot comprehend the fear of the Lord nor hear God’s whispers of love. It is only by the grace of God that we can move from a faith that is based on the wrath of God to a faith rooted in the love of God – to live in the light of God’s blessing and not under the shadow of the curse.1
Mary was startled and confused when the angel Gabriel greeted her and said, “You are favored by the Lord! The Lord is with you.”2 The virgin birth is a story to invoke in us a sense of awe and wonder of God’s mysterious ways and to invite us to seek the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now. Where God reigns, there is healing as well as abundance, love and servant leadership rather than illness, poverty, lust and dictatorship.
The virgin birth is the miracle of love seen in the birth of the Christ child. Nothing is impossible for God who is the creator of the world3 and who knits us together in the womb.4 However, it was extremely difficult for Mary to find herself pregnant before she was married. Imagine the gossip and ridicule she had to face. And she could have been stoned to death for adultery. She needed to hear the angel Gabriel telling her not to be afraid.
The story of the virgin birth is to awaken us to the reality of angels, miracles and the spiritual dimension of life. It also draws our attention to the important truth that divine love is all about relationships – love is more than sexual love. In our fallen world we have confused sex with love and blind to the truth that sex is the gift of God. Sex without love is pure lust. Sex with love is a foretaste of divine love. And love need not be expressed only through sex. Love is not a feeling but the commitment to care that can be shared without sex. Joseph did not consummate his marital relationship with Mary until after the birth of Jesus.5 His love for Mary was seen in his commitment to partner her in the immaculate pregnancy by marrying and caring for her.
God’s ways are not our ways6 and the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.7 The genealogy of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew 8 listed women who were widows and prostitutes and even an adulteress. Tamar was a widow who seduced Judah, her father in law, by pretending to be a prostitute and gave birth to Perez and Zerah. Rahab was a Gentile prostitute who married Salmon and became the mother of Boaz. Ruth was a Gentile widow who married Boaz and gave birth to Obed, the grandfather of David. Bathsheba committed adultery with David and later gave birth to Solomon. These stories are illustrations of our human foibles and weaknesses. Through them we see the wisdom and grace of God which transforms perfectly imperfect sinners into imperfectly perfect saints.
God’s wisdom is hidden in mystery but is revealed in the birth of Jesus through a virgin. Love came down at Christmas and this is the most important message of Christmas – the birth of a desire and intention to live in God’s loving embrace in a human being. Christmas is God’s invitation to embark on the journey of spiritual transformation. It is a journey that begins when we pay attention to our desire for God’s presence so that our desire will be the motivating force to maintain a rhythm of spiritual practices to keep our hearts and minds open to the Holy Spirit.9 And it begins, like the birth of Jesus, in our spiritual poverty – when we see how powerless we are over our sinful desires, ulterior motives and hidden agendas. It is only by the grace of God that we are reborn spiritually through the power of the Holy Spirit.10
Mary provides us with an example to follow when she responded to the angel Gabriel, “Let it be to me according to your word.”11We are enslaved by our fear of suffering and death and addicted to the pursuit of pleasure. We are set free only when we live beyond ourselves by taking attention off our selves – to die to self and to be reborn again as a child of God.
Epiphany is the revelation of the miracle of love in the birth of Christ, our Emmanuel, who shares our joys and our pains. It is a time to celebrate faith, hope, and love in the promises of God for He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with agape love.12 It is a time to seek the habits of spiritual disciplines with the intention to cultivate the mindset, “I am no longer my own but thine.” This is the covenant prayer instituted by John Wesley for the Methodist Watch Night service at the end of the year.13
Spiritual disciplines are to help us express our desire and longing for the love of God and to journey into the unknown to seek our Divine Lover. Our focus is not on how God is going to meet our needs but how we can glorify God in our joys as well as sorrows. The miracle of love is the depths of love and heights of joy that we can find in the moments of eternity as we pay attention to the deepest desire of our hearts and awaken our deepest longing to be God’s beloved:
“I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice,
And it told Thy love to me;
But I long to rise in the arms of faith
And be closer drawn to Thee.”
Lord, may Your love be born in my heart. Purify the desires of my heart so that I will be intentional in my devotional practices to seek You.
- How badly do I want an intimate and close relationship with God more than a comfortable, problem-free life?
- Do I crave the praises of men more than a desire to glorify God?
- Have I felt the deepest longing of my heart to live my life as God wants me to live?
- Are my prayers centered on my wants and needs rather than on praise and thanksgiving?
Song of Praise:
I Am Thine O Lord.
- Nouwen Meditation: Live Under the Blessing, January 6th, 2022
- Luke 1:28
- Genesis 1
- Psalms 139:15
- Matthew 1:25
- Isaiah 55:8
- 1 Corinthians 1:18-28
- Matthew 1:1-16
- An important insight gleaned from Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Sacred Rhythms.
- John 3:5-8
- Luke 1:38
- Romans 5:5
- John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer:
I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.