Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

Birth Announcements: To A Peasant Girl

Christmas Eve

Sunday, December 24, 2006

 

 

Luke 1: 26-38

Rev. Dean Snyder

 

So this is the most amazing birth announcement of them all –

 

“The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth to a virgin…The angel said to her: ‘Greetings, favored one…for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High…’” (Luke 1: 26-32)

 

Mary protests: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

 

Her protest was about more than sex. Mary is you and me and all humanity through whom God decides to be born into the world. We, all of us, are incapable of giving birth to God. It is impossible. When it comes to this birth, we all are virgins.

 

Trevor Hart says the protest “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” is “the question of all humanity in the face of the work of redemption and regeneration wrought in them by Christ.”[i]

 

When it comes to the possibility of God being born in us, we are all empty, we are all naïve, we are all inexperienced peasant girls.

 

We all have our reasons why God can not be born into the world through us. We are not really very religious, perhaps. We are flawed. We are angry. We have a secret sin. We are not brave. We are on medication. We are no one important. We are not the kind of person God would want. We are inadequate. We are a virgin.

 

But the angel isn’t worried. “Nothing will be impossible with God,” the angel says. (Luke 1:37)

 

We find it impossible to believe that God could be born into the world through incomplete and flawed beings like us, but the angel knows God will be born where God decides to be born.

 

Some Christians believe that God can ONLY be born into the world through a virgin. There is more to this, of course, than biology. It is a theological claim that God purposely chooses the impossible places to be born into our lives and our world.

 

I was riding my bike one day this summer with a friend on the Mt. Vernon trail. We’d stopped to rest for a few minutes on a bench by a water pump. A runner stopped at the same time to have a drink of water, and we got to talking. He mentioned that he was born and raised in Philadelphia, and I mentioned that I had been a pastor there for 30-some years. He asked me if I knew his father. His father, he said, was a recovering alcoholic who had begun a clinic for alcoholics and who worked with a lot of pastors. He talked about how his father had been an uneducated man, but – as part of his struggle with alcohol – he had gotten degrees and credentials and become influential in the work of recovery.

 

Then he said this: “I often tell my father,” he said, “that except for the time he was drinking, being an alcoholic was the best thing that ever happened to him.”

 

 The virgin birth is a theological claim that God purposely chooses the impossible places to be born into our lives and our world.

 

Some of you are aware that my sister-in-law died last Sunday and I have spent much of this past week with my brother. My brother has had three careers. He was an army chaplain and a pastor, and after his retirement he became a powerful pastoral presence among the unchurched veterans of the community where he retired. I think this has probably been the most powerful ministry he has ever done. It has been amazing this past week to hear some of the stories of people whose life he has touched in profound ways.

 

When he retired from the army, for many years my brother would have no contact with veteran groups and he would not talk to me or others about his army experience. My brother was the chaplain for the battle of the Ia Drang Valley, where many young soldiers died.

 

Eventually my brother came to realize he had survivors’ guilt. Deep down he felt he should have died in the Ia Drang Valley instead of the boys whose bodies it was his job to identify.

 

It was out of facing this almost unendurable pain that my brother’s great ministry with veterans was born.

 

The deeper meaning of the story of the virgin birth is that God purposely chooses the impossible places to be born into our lives and our world.

 

So this very night an angel may be speaking to you and to me. The angel may be speaking to the impossible virgin places inside us.

 

“How can this be,” we say, “because this is the place in my life where it is most impossible for God to be born.”

 

And the angel says to us with a sly grin: “Nothing is impossible for God. It is the impossible place where God most loves to be born. Wait and see. Let it be.”  

 

 

 

 

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[i] Quoted in Cynthia L. Rigby, “Mary and the Artistry of God,” Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary, Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors (Westminster John Knox, 2002), 153.