Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have not known a man?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” Luke 1:34-35
Grow quiet and still. Open your mind and heart to this image, to the Scripture, to the divine Presence. As you gaze, what do you see? What do you feel? Can you sense an invitation to you from the Spirit? What might it be?
It’s good to have Gabriel out of the way for a moment so as to give our full attention to this young Mary, who seems lost in thought. Seeing her so up-close and alone, we can focus on her as a solitary figure. At first glance, we may see her as vulnerable, burdened, uneasy. She is so young and slender, possibly fragile. It looks like she’s using her arms to protect herself. Her eyes, cast to the side, look at no one. Does she feel trapped? But closer examination shows a reserve of strength in her, something poised and alert, intelligent and ready. The dove, the Spirit, has reached her. It shines, and so does she.
If this girl was powerless before, she is by no means powerless now. An angel has revealed to her that no man will be needed for her to fulfill her purpose. She, a young woman, will bear the world’s redemption. A woman, a young woman, unaided by a male, is chosen to change the world. The saving Incarnation will begin in her, will enter the world through her. How can this be? By the Holy Spirit upon her. And if her world finds this unthinkable, if she herself believes it impossible, the words of Gabriel are the revolutionary truth, upending the world as we know it: “With God, nothing is impossible!”
The Holy Spirit is the smasher of false boundaries, the undoing of the old power arrangement. The Holy Spirit grants new power to those whom the systems of the world have stripped of power. As Mary herself will soon say: “God has lifted up the lowly and brought down the powerful from their thrones.”
Look at the girl in the painting. Does she look like someone who has much power? Look again. The Holy Spirit has come to her, the power of the Most High overshadows her, and she is filled to the brim with world-shaking power. Now take a look at your own life. Would you say you are lacking in genuine, grounded, deep, resilient power? Yes? But here is the Holy Spirit—in you and in us together. And the angel’s word is still spoken over us: With God, nothing is impossible.
Mighty Spirit, agent of wondrous reversals, help me to claim your power in me, and to celebrate the power you grant to the those whom the world has sought to deny. Amen.