Intimately Infinite

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Ecce_Ancilla_Domini!_-_Google_Art_Project

Luke 1:26-38

Let’s begin by talking about vocation. What is vocation?

Many would say that vocation is what you want to do with your life.  In this sense, it answers that question we all ask growing up: What do I want to be when I grow up?

For instance, near the end of high school, my friend Bob decided he wanted to be a fighter pilot.  This dream quickly became his main goal in life.  In ways, it even became an obsession.  He began to do everything he could to realize his dream.  He learned what kind of major he should declare in college, what kinds of grades he should shoot for, how to enter Officer Candidate School; he even took some flying lessons.  And, I’m happy to say, in time Bob realized his dream.  He graduated college, joined the Air Force, and flew F16s.

But this idea—that your vocation is what you want to do when you grow up—does not quite capture the real meaning of the word vocation.  Your vocation may be someday to be a pilot—or a teacher, a lawyer, a mom, a dad, a businessperson, whatever—in the future.  But you also have a vocation right now, in the present.

In fact, this is your real vocation.  That other thing we’ve been talking about, that job you hope to have someday, that’s more an aspiration than a vocation.  What you do and who you are—your so-called lot in life—right now is your vocation, not some dream about the future.

The trouble comes when your present vocation changes suddenly and unexpectedly: when something happens in your life that radically changes who you are and what you do in your day-to-day routine.

Hannah’s vocation, for instance, changed dramatically when her little sister Emily was born—and Hannah knew it!  A toddler, less than two years-old, Hannah came home from Grandma’s house to be greeted by her brand new baby sister.  Suddenly Hannah’s world, her day-to-day routine, had been radically altered.  Her response was to let out a wail to frighten away even the most wizened alley cat.

Fortunately, a quick thinking and experienced grandma whisked Hannah away to Baskin-Robbins for a grandma-to-granddaughter talk.  And when Hannah returned, she walked over to her brand new baby sister, pointed, looked at me with an obviously forced smile, and said, “See?  Baby!”—about fifty times in a row!

Anyway, whether wailing or putting on her game face, Hannah’s vocation had changed suddenly and radically.

Vocational changes can be positive: you get that job you’ve always dreamed about; you publish a book; you welcome a new child into the family.  Or they can be negative: you’re unexpectedly fired from a job; you can no longer afford your lifestyle; you lose a loved one.

Whatever the case, something about your vocation changes.  What you are called to do at this moment is now radically altered from what you were doing and who you called to be last week.

Now, with this perspective on vocation, put yourself in Mary’s shoes. Gabriel appears to her and relays a message.  “You will be a mother,” the angel says, “despite seemingly impossible odds.  Your life, your vocation, is about to be radically altered.”

We know how Mary responds to this message.  “Let it be with me according to your word,” she says.

But this response comes at the end of the passage.  What do you think was going through her mind in the middle?  How do you think she was tempted to react to Gabriel?  How would you have reacted?

Would you have doubted the angel’s words?  Would you maybe have said something like, “I’m to have a baby?  What?  How can this be?”

Would you have been skeptical?  “You say you’re an angel named Gabriel?  Ha!  I know this seems real and all, but it’s got to be really just a dream.”

Would you have been afraid?  “I’m not ready to raise a child!”

How about this one: would you have rebelled?  “No!  You can’t make me do this.  You’ve got the wrong girl, Gabriel.  God’s not fair!”

But here’s the thing: if Mary had responded any differently, would it have changed the fact that her life was about to be radically altered?  Would it have changed her new vocation?

To tell the truth, Mary did doubt; she was skeptical; and she was afraid!  She asked the very question I named above: “How can this be?”

But I’m not going to say she was rebellious.  No, that is not what the text says.  Rather, she was obedient.  She submitted to God’s will—she even welcomed it: “Let it be with me according to your word”!

Still, even if she had rebelled, it would not have changed her new vocation!

How do I know this?  Because it just happened in the first half of this chapter (Luke 1) with Mary’s cousin, a man named Zechariah.  An Angel appeared to him and gave him a message.  He rebelled.  God did his will anyway.

If your vocation—your present lot in life—has been suddenly and radically changed, no amount of doubt, skepticism, fear, or rebellion can alter your new vocation.

You see, Mary’s new vocation does not depend on her—anything she can or cannot do; any attitude she may or may not show. Whining or complaining about it won’t make it go away.  Running from it or ignoring it won’t change the fact that it’s real.  Mary knows this.  And she accepts this.  Her response simply reveals her character—a character that trusts God to lead.

Which leads to a question: How do you respond to your present circumstances?

Consider with me:

  • Do you welcome change, maybe especially change you don’t like?
  • To what extent are you able to trust in God’s leading when things don’t go your way?
  • Do you ever blame God for your present lot in life?
  • Do you ever get angry at God?
  • What do your responses to change say about your character?

But an even better question than what this passage reveals about our character is, What does this story reveal about God’s character?

We don’t know why God allows hard changes to affect us.  We can talk about free agency and election and other related theologies until we’re blue in the face—and some theologians have!  But at the end of the day, we still don’t know.

But we do see something in this story that tells us God is incomprehensively good.

God is infinite, beyond our greatest comprehension.  Yet at a specific time in history this infinite God sought out a particular empire; and a particular (rural) region within that empire; and a particular (common) girl in that rural region of that empire.  And God did this in order to bring about his saving will for all of creation.

Do you see?  The same God who is infinite beyond all comprehension is also intimately caught up in the details of each of our lives.  He knows the number of the hairs on your head.  He knows the hard changes you must face throughout your life, even before they happen.  He knows your struggles.

Do you, then—do we—have any other right response than Mary’s?  Let it be with us according to God’s word.

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