In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, 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, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
It’s no wonder Mary had found favor with God. When the Angel Gabriel showed up to her and told her God’s plan, he might as well have told her that she was to sprout wings and fly to the moon, and wait there for a gathering of time travelers from the future. The details of the plan were really that crazy. Mary is a poor, young, unknown woman that just happens to be engaged to a young man whom she loves very much. As was their custom she had remained sexually chaste and planned to continue as such until her wedding night. Thus there was no physical way she could be pregnant. If she were pregnant, then surely she must have slept with a man other than her betrothed at some point – though she couldn’t remember this encounter at all! If that was the case, she would be guilty of infidelity, violating so many of her people’s customs that she would be sentenced to die by stoning. Her fiancé, Joseph, would surely lead the stoning. Or, if somehow she got out of this situation with her life, conventional wisdom told her she’d be homeless, cold, starving, and forced to work demeaning jobs in order to survive and take care of her child. Most likely, she’d have to become a slave or a prostitute to maintain any hope of a life for her and her baby. I don’t know about you, but I would have had a lot of questions and objections. Mary, though, remains calm. I, on the other hand, probably would have responded more like Sarai, Moses, Elijah, or Jonah (and really the list could just go on and on . . . ). Instead, Mary simply asks the most obvious question: “how can this be, since I am a virgin?” She clearly accepts that it is so, she accepts that God wants to do this new thing through her, she accepts the name for the child, and with all this she accepts the unknown future God is asking her to live. Mary simply wonders. Rather than wander, like so many others, she instead wonders. God’s ways fill her with wonder. She doesn’t question the why, but simply wonders how. The angel’s response is terrific, and it sums up the entirety of the Old Testament so well: “Your cousin Elizabeth is old and barren, and yet she is 6 months pregnant, for nothing is impossible with God.” This is all Mary needs to hear. Whereas the Angel’s statement is a perfect summary of the lessons God repeatedly tried to teach the people of Israel in the OT, Mary’s response is the response that God desires from all people: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
As the old song “Come Thou Fount” says, we are prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love. Notice the contradiction in that sentence: we love God and yet are prone to wander away from God. Our love doesn’t dissipate, but we are prone to wander, to stray, to doubt. (Holiness folk, let’s leave this verse alone, OK?!? The theology is good, and doesn’t contradict the doctrine of holiness.) Most are prone to wander. Mary, though, responded with wonder. What if doubt – doubt of God or of our selves – wasn’t our first response to the Gospel? What if skepticism wasn’t our go-to-move? What if we didn’t try to make Scripture into something it is not, namely a modern science or history book, but rather received it as the story of God, the story of God’s relationship with creation, and thus as the story of our salvation? What if God’s ways drove you to wonder?
I confess, I want to be a person of wonder. I try to cultivate it. Scripture, stories of the Saints, history, the awesomeness of creation, human creativity – especially in terms of literature and film, these all fill me with wonder at God’s power and love. As a modern person, I have to intentionally try to downplay skepticism and a general sense of monotony towards the world, and instead look for reasons to stand in awe and wonder. Mary is an example in this. Rather than wander, she wonders, and that makes all the difference for everything. Literally, it’s safe to write everything, for her choice affected all, and will continue to do so for all time.
How do you encounter the world? How do you encounter God? When was the last time you wandered? When was the last time an encounter with God filled you with wonder? The laugh of an infant, a cuddle with your small child, the voice of your spouse, the look of love and approval in your parent’s eyes, the brisk waters of baptism, the taste of communion, the smell of incense, the sound of voices joining in songs of praise to the Lord, a good movie . . . . all of these can fill you with wonder and drive you to praise and worship God. You have to be willing to notice them, to stop and recognize God in your midst, Emmanuel, and to be overwhelmed with the wonder of it all.
Today, as you live your life and go about your mundane tasks, ask God to give you wonder, and when you encounter it, to keep you from wandering. Look for wonder and awe. Pray for it. And, when you encounter it, rest in it. Praise God for this still small moment. Open yourself up to the wonder of it all, and that amidst the vastness and complexity of creation, God created you for such small moments. He created you to wonder at His love and glory. He created you to help others receive and experience wonder as well. Take time to wonder today, and in doing so, let this wonder move you to praise.