Advent Reflections–How Shall This Be?

I don’t know about you, but I have been particularly eager for Advent this year. It feels good to have the tree up and the lights lit and the holiday music playing in the background.

This year I put together an Advent devotional for my church and will post the pieces each day on the blog. Each week will (loosely) follow the candle theme: hope, peace, joy, and love. Monday through Thursday I’ll post edited versions of previous posts and each Friday there will be a newly written blessing.

If you would like a PDF version of the devotional that you could print out, feel free to contact me.

Anonymous icon, 1825; Church Museum of the Bishopry of Thessaloniki


How shall this be?
(Luke 1:26-38)

One thing I love about the story of the Annunciation is that–despite her youth, despite the shock of having an angel show up in her room and announce this terrible prospect of her pregnancy–Mary looks the angel Gabriel in the eye and asks, “How will this be since I am a virgin?”

Can you imagine discussing your sexual status with the angel Gabriel? “How will this be?” Unfortunately, Gabriel doesn’t answer Mary’s question in any helpful way.

“Ummm,” says Gabriel. “How . . . let’s see . . . how will this be? A virgin you say . . . well . . . umm . . . The Holy Spirit, yeah, that’s it, the Holy Spirit will come upon you and . . . and . . . the power of the Most High will overshadow you . . . ”

Luke doesn’t record the fumbling pauses, but I can certainly imagine them. The truth is that the answer Gabrielle gives is really no answer at all. Certainly not a medically satisfying one.

But it is the only answer Mary gets. The only answer that Luke has. And, therefore, the only answer that we have to a question that all educated, rational people must want to ask about this story.

A virgin shall conceive and bear a son. How shall this be?

Your child will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his Kingdom will never end. How shall this be?

Rulers will be brought down from their thrones and the humble will be lifted up. The hungry will be filled with good things and the rich will be sent away empty. How shall this be?

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light will dawn. How shall this be?

Nation will not rage against nation. Neither will they learn war any more. How shall this be?

The promises of God are beyond what reasonable, intelligent people can expect. Yet still, these promises come.

They came to Mary through an angel. They come to us, usually, in more subtle ways: through the words of scripture; through dreams; through the beauty of God’s creation; through the words of friends and strangers; through glimpses of God’s love, justice, and peace breaking out in our world.

We read of Jesus’ healings and his promise of abundant life, and we see in this God’s promise of health care for all people. We follow the Prince of Peace; we read God’s promises of peace over and over again in the scriptures. We know these promises include peace around the world and in our communities. We read the words of the prophets and know that God promises justice for the oppressed, provision for the poor. How shall this be?

We know God’s amazing promises are not just for the world at large, but the promises are also for each of us. That we will have life abundant. Time and energy for the things that enliven us and for the things that bring life to others. How shall this be?

We don’t know, exactly. All we know is that it involves the Holy Spirit acting in our lives. All we know is that it involves the presence of God coming close.

How shall this be?

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

I’m afraid that is the only answer we have. Thanks be to God that, for Mary, it was enough.

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