by Francisco Garcia
(Excerpts from Luke 1:26-38)
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.
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.
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.”
It is here that the birth of Jesus is foretold to Mary by the angel Gabriel. Whenever this story comes up, I imagine that some of us may be tempted to get into a discussion about the virgin birth and its historical veracity. I personally don’t find this debate very relevant or helpful to our faith journey. I try to read and reflect on any scripture with multiple approaches–a certain “hermeneutic [interpretation] of suspicion” as philosopher/theologian Paul Ricoeur would suggest, and also a hermeneutic of love and liberation. So while my critical, suspicious mind will question the virgin birth, when I ask the question, “How is God’s message of love and liberation for humanity in this story?,” I am profoundly moved by this scripture’s deep spiritual truths and the practical implications for our lives.
What I find most compelling and meaningful about this story is how God’s favor and love arrives to Mary–and therefore to us–in amazing and unpredictable ways. It comes to Mary, a young virgin of humble origins, who would have least expected such favor. That a virgin girl promised to be married would claim to be giving birth to the holy child of God is certainly a scandal. That Mary’s older cousin Elizabeth would be six months pregnant, despite having been “barren,” is preposterous. In the midst of these scandalous claims, an angel, one of God’s messengers, provides comforting and encouraging words. “Do not be afraid! Nothing will be impossible with God!”
Once I take in this message through the lens of God’s love and liberation, then I find that I am fully open to the unique message that God has placed in this story for me, for my family, for our faith community, and for the wider world. It makes me see that the story really isn’t about Mary or Elizabeth or Gabriel–it’s about God’s favor and love for all of humanity in our present time, and for all of time. Through two stories of improbable and impossible conception–God’s love and favor arrives. Jesus enters the world in the most impossible, unlikely circumstances, to have us believe in the possibility of God’s abundant, fruitful love in the most difficult and barren places of our lives and society. It’s also a call for us to accept God’s favor and love, and to strive to make it tangible in every aspects of our lives and in the world. Mary had to accept the favor. Through this, broken relationships can be restored. Self-hatred can be transformed to self-love. Unjust structures can be made righteous. In our own time, who would’ve thought that the U.S. and Cuban governments would begin to restore diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of serious tension and conflict? It happened this week, after much undercover groundwork. I’d like to think that the Cuba-U.S. story has its own version of angels proclaiming God’s favor and love in unlikely, barren places, and of the people of God accepting this call and saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord…”