Believe and Obey

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A Request Not a Command

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God Comes a Knockin

The text this week is Luke 1:26-38.  This is the famous story of the angel Gabriel coming to see Mary and discussing her role in the birth of the Son of God.  That’s a heady conversation to be sure.  This is also a special text for me for a somewhat unusual reason.  Back in 2018 I came across a Twitter comment from a professor of clinical psychology.  He was making the point that this is a story about an assault on a teenager.  To quote this person “The virgin birth story is about an all-knowing, all-powerful deity impregnating a human teen. There is no definition of consent that would include that scenario. Happy Holidays.”  I had what I like to call a Ron White moment (fans of this comic will understand).  I had the right to remain silent, but I no longer had the ability.

So, is this a story about an all-powerful, abusive God preying upon a teenager.  In a word…No.  This is about a God that, as He always does asks for obedience.  Verse 38 is very clear; “’I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered.  “May your word to me be fulfilled”.  Why does Mary need to voice agreement if this is a forced situation? 

The use of the word obedience might indicate a power imbalance in that many will conceive that God is not too subtly threatening damnation to those who say no.  For any believer, and Mary was certainly that, separation from God is damnation.  I personally don’t believe in eternal hellfire, but this is not the time for this discussion.  Suffice it to say that any of us who believe would view separation from God as hell.  This is not at all the same thing as forcing yourself on an unwilling participant.

God Only Asks

This is as true in this passage as it is in multiple passages throughout the New Testament.  Luke 9:54-55 sees the disciples ask Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven on some people who reject the message.  Jesus rebukes them for this.  Luke 12: 13-21 tells of the parable of the rich fool who would not give up his possessions to follow Jesus.  Notable is that Jesus did not chase after him to force obedience.  There are multiple such stories such as this that drive home the point. 

In the end, we have but one choice-we can say no.  The faith we possess is itself a gift from God.  We can only reject the gift that God offers us.  That’s it in a nutshell.  This is as true for us today as it was for Mary.  We are not likely to be asked for such an awesome and important thing to do as Mary was, but we are, as she was, asked.  It is true that disobedience brings separation from God-a disaster for us who believe (but this separation is always erased by our repentance and belief).  It is also true that disobedience brings practical disaster for the community-see the history of the nation Israel.  Yet, never does God demand-He only offers.

The main importance of this story is that Mary was asked, and she said yes.  God offered Mary a tremendous honor and she agreed.  The means by which God brought His Son into the world is important for both the voluntary nature of how it was done and for the very human way it was achieved.  Mary said yes to both the faith that God gave her and accepted the role that God was asking her to perform. 

The relevance to us should be clear.  We too can accept the gift of faith that God has given us and accept the role of proclaiming the Good News and working for the in-breaking of God’s kingdom here on earth.  We can in our own much smaller way be like Mary-we can believe and obey-all because we were asked.

Praise Be to God

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