Imagine for a moment, you are watching tv and you stumble across a television show you have never seen before. The first thing you see is a man in the middle of a sidewalk kneeling down in front of a woman. You don’t really need to know any other part of the story or plot in order to know what is about to happen, right? The man is going to propose. In literature, this would be called a “type scene.” It is a situation or a story that all of us are familiar with. You don’t really need any other details to know what is going on. Or lets say you come across the last two minutes of the football game…your team is winning and not only that, they have the ball at the fifty yard line. You don’t really need to know any other details of the game in order to know what’s about to happen. Your team is clearly going to win. This would be a type scene as well.
Type scenes aren’t just on our televisions; they all over scripture too. If you are reading the Bible and somebody goes up to the top of a mountain, you can be sure they are likely to wind up speaking to God up there. If Jesus is called out to visit someone who has died, there is a pretty good chance that person will get up and start walking around in no time. One common type scene in scripture is when an angel comes to visit a couple that has grown old and never conceived a child. Whenever this situation arises, we can be certain that it won’t be long before a baby is on the way. Sarah and Abraham were well into their nineties, if not more, having lived their whole life childless, when angels appeared to them saying, “You will have a son.” Hannah, whose womb was said to be closed, who was so distraught over not having a child that she had stopped eating, is praying in the temple and meets an angel who tells her that she will give birth to a son named Samuel. In the beginning of Luke’s gospel, we even see this with Elizabeth and Zechariah. We often forget this story, but as it is told, Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, and Zechariah are well into retirement age and the most painful part of their life is that they were never able to have children. Infertility was something that brought much disgrace and shame upon a family because it broke the family lineage. But then, with old man Zechariah standing in the temple, an angel of the Lord appears to him. Aha! It is an angel appearing to a couple who’s never had children. We know what is going to happen next. The angel Gabriel says to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, for your prayer has been answer. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” Elizabeth and Zechariah, in their ripe old age and in a closed unsuspecting womb, conceive a child, who will be known as John the Baptist. It is a story, or a type scene, that can been seen throughout scripture.
But every once in awhile a type scene doesn’t play out as it should. Every once in a while, that man kneeling down in the middle of the sidewalk, looks up at his girlfriend and says, “Pam…will you….wait for me while I tie my shoe?” Every once in awhile, in a football game between…oh, I don’t know..the Chicago Bears and the Denver Broncos, the team with the lead and the ball at the fifty yard with only two minutes left forgets to stay in bounds and let clock run out and instead, gives the other team the time and the chance to come back and win it.
Sometimes, an angel of the Lord is sent not to a couple that has spent much of their life praying for the child who never showed up, but to a couple who has never even tried to have a child, never said they wanted a child. This is the case with Mary and Joseph. The type scene doesn’t play out as it should. Gabriel, the same angel who came to Zechariah with such incredibly good news, is sent to Nazareth. But he isn’t sent to Mary the barren old woman, but to Mary, the virgin, the teenager. One whose fertility just arrived and has yet to even be tested.
This isn’t the story we are used to. It is not what we expected, and first and foremost not what Mary expected. From Gabriel’s first words to her, she is already suspicious that something is up. “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you!” Gabriel calls out. And immediately, she was perplexed. What’s going on here, she thinks? I wonder what Mary was doing when Gabriel showed up. Was she standing in line at the market with figs and olives in her hand? Or was she at home getting ready for the day, when suddenly there was a knock at the door. Or worse, was she standing in her room with the door closed when a cold breeze came across her face? Wherever she was, she couldn’t have been ready for it. Who could be ready for the news that God wants to become flesh and blood in this world, let alone the fact that God needs your help to do it?
For Zechariah and Elizabeth, news that life had begun to beat in Elizabeth’s womb was great news for which they waited much too long. Month after month they suffered the profound sadness, disappointment and embarrassment of not being able to have a child. They prayed and prayed and prayed, until long after all the hope and passion had been squeezed out of them. When told that she was pregnant, Elizabeth was beyond joyful. But for Mary, news of a child kicking inside her was no prayer she had ever made. It rarely is for teenagers. And fear crept in for her too, I imagine. Only this fear was probably centered around her own life. Will Joseph stay by my side? What will people think of me, pregnant and unwed? Will I be stoned, like the law allows?
When Gabriel came with such unexpected news, Mary had been chosen for a life she did not intend to lead. Which is really all of us when we think about it. There is much that comes to us in this life of which we did not intend. Some, like Mary, never intended to end up pregnant at such a young age but it happened. My friend from high school didn’t intend to bury his father this week, but he did. We never plan to hear those three words from our doctor – “It is cancer.”
And there also those beautifully unexpected things in life. I know of a family that didn’t expect their third son, but now can’t imagine life without him. I know of someone who never expected to make the lead in the school play, but through it discovered their love for acting.
There is much that comes to us in this life of which we did not intend. For Mary, Gabriel and his news of a child were uninvited houseguests. Which makes Mary’s response to Gabriel all that more incredible. Hearing the news that she will be the one to bear God into this world, Mary said yes when she could have said no. Saying no probably wouldn’t have made her any less pregnant but it would have probably hardened her heart and dimmed the light in her eyes. But Mary said yes. “Here I am Lord,” she said with a little bit of hesitation mixed in with excitement. This doesn’t mean she was any less scared or any less at risk of being shunned. But it does mean that she was more of a participant, more of a co-creator with God in this life than a pawn in God’s game of life.
As exciting and scary as it can be at times, like Mary, our life is more often than not something that simply happens to us rather than something that we choose. The choice that comes in is how we will respond to such a life.
A 14th Century mystic once said, “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God, and I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be mothers of God. God is always needing to be born.” We might be children of God, but we are also mothers of God. And so, we are called to birth God into the world with whatever life brings us. We can say yes or no to whether we will participate in such divine labor and co-creating. If you say no, well then you will likely continue believing that the world is against you and that you are just a pawn in God’s cruel game of life – which to me sounds like a recipe for anger and bitterness. If you say yes, well then pick up the phone and call your folks because you are about to be a parent. God is about to be flesh and blood in the world it’s happening through you. To say yes will look different for each one of us and it will be more difficult for some of us at times too. Sometimes giving birth to God in the world means pouring out your love and compassion onto a child who is sick. But giving birth to God can also mean acting responsibly with the new power that a job promotion gives. Whatever your situation is in life, know that the angel of God will never stop showing up and knocking on your door. It will never stop asking you to be the one who gives birth to God today for God is always needing to be born into this world. AMEN
 Barbara Brown Taylor, Gospel Medicine, p. 166 (e-book edition).