This was written in 2006 by Rev. Richard Sipley for the
Christmas issue of his church newspaper, in Victoria, B. C.
He was my pastor when I was in HIgh School in Tuscaloosa.
HOW CAN IT BE ? Luke 1:26-38
This week I saw a perfect illustration of the sad failure of the world to understand or celebrate Christmas. I was walking through the Mall, and there was Santa Claus ringing a bell and leaning on the cash register in front of his photographic equipment. He looked tired and bored, hoping to make some more money by taking some child’s picture.
What a twisted, phony scene! How sad! This is Christmas - the season of Joy! But, I wonder how many of you, along with me are facing at least one problem in your life for which you see no human solution? If I should say to you that the Christmas story has the answer you might say with the Virgin Mary, “How can it be?”
Mary was part of a nation living in desperate circumstances for which there was no human solution, when a shining being from another world stood before her and told her that there was a solution, she answered in amazement, “How can it be?”
How can what be? How can something be done contrary to the laws of the material world, such as a virgin birth? Something contrary to the laws of her social world, such as an unwed mother, who should be stoned to death? Something contrary to the laws of the Political World, like a peasant rising to the throne against the power of Rome? Something contrary to the laws of the Spiritual World, combining a physical being and a spiritual being into one person to create a God-man? How can it be?
Only through the Holy Spirit; “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you.” Only through the supernatural power of God; “The power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Only through the presence of the Son of God; “That holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God.”
Christmas was not just a starlit night in Bethlehem: it had been behind the stars forever. There was Christmas in the heart of God when He made the earth, and then gave it away to us. When He sent us His prophets, that was Christmas too. And it was the most magnificent Christmas of all, that night in Bethlehem when He gave us His own son.
As Jesus grew up, Christmas was everywhere He went, giving food, giving sight, giving life. For Christmas is giving. But Christmas is also receiving. In the Bible it says: "As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God." As many as received Him! When we understand that, we understand that receiving can be even more important than giving at Christmas! When we receive Christ, we experience completely the gift that is Christmas. Then, for us, Christmas is truly always, for Jesus said, "Lo, 1 am with you always".
And Christmas is Jesus!
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given,
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming, But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in!”
How can it be? Only through the Word of God, “For no word from God shall be impossible of fulfillment.”
How can it be? I can not do those things! Only God can do those things! What can I do? I can Give myself to Christ! I can Accept His Word by Trusting it and Obeying it! I can do as Mary did. With a humble believing heart she said, “Be it unto me according to your word!”
We have seen the studies, sepia strokes across yellowed parchment, the fine detail of hand and breast and the fall of cloth - Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Titian, El Greco, Renault - each complex Madonna positioned, sketched, enlarged, each likeness plotted at last on canvas, layered with pigment, like the final draft of a poem after thirty-nine roughs.
But Mary, virgin, had no sittings, no chance to pose for piety, no novitiate for body or for heart. The moment was on her unaware: The Angel in the room, the impossible demand, the response without reflection. Only one word of curiosity, echoing Zechariah’s “How?” Yet innocently voiced, without request for proof.
The teen head tilted in light, the hand trembling a little at the throat, the candid eyes, wide with acquiescence to shame and glory, “Be it unto me as you have said.”
It seemed too much to ask of one small virgin, that she should stake shame against the will of God... and it seems much, too much to ask you, and me, to be part of the different thing - God’s shocking, unorthodox, unheard of Thing, to further heaven’s hopes and summon God’s glory.