There are moments that are pivotal, world-changing, astonishing. You fall in love. You discover a new continent. You step on to the moon. The letter arrives.
Nothing can be the same again.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
Zechariah’s encounter with an angel left him speechless. Mary also struggled to comprehend her own encounter. It’s small wonder so many angelic encounters are introduced with the words “Fear not.” It is an awe-inspiring thing when the natural and the supernatural come together. For want of a better phrase, it’s a miraculous moment. C.S.Lewis provided an insightful description in That Hideous Strength of the night when spirit-beings (the eldila) visit Professor Ransom. Yeats wrote The Mother of God, an astonishing piece of verse based, in part, on this very passage, on the awe-inspiring quality of angelic encounter: “A fallen flare/ through the hollow of an ear/ wings beating about the room/the terror of all terrors that I bore/ the heavens in my womb.” In different ways, both writers give me some kind of clue of that sense of being totally out of one’s depth. What would you do if the impossible happened – if God spoke, or sent his “messenger”? According to Hebrews, “Some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Imagine that.
It’s that vital point that Luke keeps making, of the extraordinary within the ordinary. It’s the story of coincidence. According to Fred Buechner, “I believe that people laugh at coincidence as a way of relegating it to the realm of the absurd and of therefore not having to take seriously the possibility that there is a lot more going on in our lives than we either know or care to know. Who can say what it is that’s going on, but I suspect that part of it, anyway, is that every once and so often we hear a whisper from the wings that goes something like this: ‘You’ve turned up in the right place at the right time. You’re doing fine. Don’t ever think that you’ve been forgotten.’”
This miraculous moment with Mary is a powerful “whisper from the wings.” Her life is changed forever with the powerful greeting: “The Lord is with you.” It’s the Emmanuel word, isn’t it? It’s a truth that sets the recipient free. After that, nothing can faze you, distract you, knock you from your deliberate path, if only that one phrase stands true in your deepest heart. St Patrick fought against a whole culture of paganism based upon its premise.
Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
“The Lord is with you.” How do we know it’s true? The last words Jesus said on earth were, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).The same greeting crops up in Ruth 2:4 and used by Boaz: “The Lord be with you.” Paul uses it to end his last letter to Timothy, “The Lord be with your spirit” (2 Timothy 4:22). The whole of Luke’s Story is, precisely, God being with us. What a change that would make in how I live, if I just took it straight, for real, for ever.
The miraculous moment can change the atheist into a believer. Most Christians trace their conversion to an encounter with the Lord – to this realization that the Lord is with them. Anthony Bloom, a Russian Orthodox bishop, was transformed from a militant atheist to a believer through such an experience.
“While I was reading the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel, before I reached the third chapter, I suddenly became aware that on the other side of my desk there was a presence. And the certainty was so strong that it was Christ standing there that it has never left me. This was the real turning point. Because Christ was alive and I had been in his presence, I could say with certainty that what the Gospel said about the crucifixion of the prophet of Galilee was true, and the centurion was right when he said, ‘Truly he is the Son of God.’ …I did not discover, as you see, the Gospel beginning with its first message of the Annunciation, and it did not unfold for me as a story which one can believe or disbelieve. It began as an event that left all problems of disbelief behind because it was a direct and personal experience” (Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray).
A direct and personal experience….
Lord I come to You
Let my heart be changed, renewed
Flowing from the grace
That i have found in You
And Lord I have come to know
The weaknesses I see in me
Will be stripped away
By the power of Your love
Hold me close
Let Your love surround me
Bring me near
Draw me to Your side
And as I wait
I will rise up like the eagle
And I will soar with You
Your Spirit leads me on
In the power of Your love
Lord unveil my eyes
Let me see You face to face
The knowledge of Your love
As You live in me
And Lord renew my mind
As Your will unfolds in my life
In living every day
By the power of Your love
- All in One (auniversallove.wordpress.com)
- If only you knew… (afruitinseason.wordpress.com)
- Are You Pregnant? (achievinghappiness.net)