It was anything but a holy moment. Last spring, a bug flew in my ear. I do not mean that a bug landed on my ear and flew away. A bug flew into my ear and got stuckinside my head.
Can I just say that I started dancing?
I didn’t want to push it deeper in, so I just sort of started flicking my ear. I didn’t want to make a scene, so I just sort of jerked my head and twitched. I was riveted. All I could hear was bug. All I cared about was bug. It was like I was lifted up into a different world, a bug’s world. I suddenly had a new vocation that took precedence before all other vocations: to get the bug out of me.
Now, multiply this experience by one hundred thousand, and try to imagine it as one of the most holy moments, the holiest of holy moments. Imagine an archangel with wings, as bright and terrible as the sun, flying into your bedroom and then the Holy Spirit coming upon you and the power of the Most High overshadowing you. Imagine God inyou.
This is exactly what happened to a young maiden named Mary in the spring of the year of our Lord zero. And I don’t mean that God landed on her and flew away. God flew intothe virgin Mary. And stayed there. For nine months.
This was no bug. This was the living God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary conceived…God! What could be more crazy than a creature giving birth to her Creator? If I could be so completely transformed by something as wimpy and inconsequential as a bug in my ear, imagine how completely transformed Mary must have been by the living God—Jehovah, who rides upon the clouds—in her womb.
Can I just say that Mary started dancing?
Mary did not want to make a scene, so she went to live with her cousin Elizabeth for three months. She was riveted. All she could hear was God. All she cared about was God. It was like she had been lifted up into a different world, a God world. Mary suddenly had a new vocation that took precedence before all other vocations: to birth God to the world.
The ark of the old covenant
I want to invite you to circle two phrases in Luke 1:35—“the Holy Spirit will come upon you,” and “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
Where have we heard language like this before? The first time we hear about God “coming upon” his people and “overshadowing” them like a cloud is in the book of Exodus, where the presence of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush (3:1-4:17), came down on Mount Sinai in the sight of the people (19:16-20), and showed Moses his glory when he revealed his covenant (34:1-10). The book ends with the glory of God coming upon and overshadowing the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34).
It’s mind-boggling. The God who is by definition uncharted territory moved into this one tiny dot on the giant map of the world. The God who transcends all space and time bound himself to this one particular box. He made the womb of Israel, the ark of the covenant, the place of his presence.
God was everywhere, but he was there.
“There I will meet with you…on the ark of the covenant, I will speak with you” (Ex. 25:22). There, seated between the cherubim, God dwelled with a deadly glory. The priests risked their lives to gaze upon the sacred furniture of the tabernacle, especially the ark (Num. 4:18-20). If you touched it, you would die (2 Sam. 6:8). While the Lord was present “among his people” (Ex. 13:17-18; 21-22), his presence was so closely linked to the ark of the covenant that when the ark was set out, Moses would cry: “Advance, O Lord! May your enemies be scattered, and may your foes flee before you!” When it halted, he would cry: “Return, O Lord, unto the ten thousand of Israel!” (Num. 10:35-36). When the ark entered the gates of Jerusalem, it was addressed if it were God himself: “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the King of glory may come in!” (Ps. 24:7).
The ark of the new covenant
What an awesome God we have! For the sake of his people wandering in the wilderness he chose to stoop very low, dwelling in the ark of the covenant. Even more, for our sake he chose to stoop low in sending his Son to dwell in Mary and to be borne into the world. “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1:14). Jesus is the ultimate ark of the covenant, the final and absolute temple, the holy one whose name is Immanuel, God-with-us (John 2:19).
Yet the same Jesus who says, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12) also says to his disciples: “You are the light of the world…Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mat. 5:14, 16).
In other words, you are the new temple of God. All that the tabernacle once was, you now are. “God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:17). As God once dwelt in the ark of the covenant, he now dwells in the baptized faithful—God in you and me. This is the secret kept secret, the song only the stars had known: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:26-27).
This is no wimpy bug. This is the all-holy God. God in you. You do not become God, but you “house” God. You are the ark of the new covenant.
Can I just say, why aren’t you dancing?
But when did the new covenant start? Where was the special place where God started turning human beings into living, breathing arks of the new covenant? It all started in the womb of the virgin Mary. She is ground zero. She is where the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.
Mary is the first ark of the new covenant. The God who transcends all space and time bound himself to this one particular woman. God was everywhere, but he was there. God, in a human being.
But now God is incarnate. Mary is the ark to the umpteenth degree. The eternal Son of God took flesh from Mary’s flesh, a human nature from Mary’s human nature, and filled her with his holy presence. God never became consubstantial with the ark, but he did become consubstantial with Mary’s human nature.
Now, no one else but Mary can physically give birth to Jesus. The incarnation was an unrepeatable historic event. But in Luke 11:27-28, Christ opens up a holy possibility: we can be like his mother, the one who heard the word of God and then did it.
“Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed,” a woman cries out to Jesus, repeating what Elizabeth shouted when she was filled with the Holy Spirit and what Mary said every generation would repeat.
“Indeed,” Jesus says, “blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
In other words, if we hear and keep the Word within us, like Mary, we will be blessed. As Christians, we too are to “birth” God to the world!
“My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:20). Jesus is not saying that he does not have a mother, for he would not deny his own incarnation. He is saying that although it is a wonderful thing to be in his earthly family, it is a more wonderful thing to belong to his spiritual family. In addition to the only-once physical birth of Christ, there is another dimension of motherhood which brings Christ into the world again and again: it rests upon hearing, keeping, and doing the word.
What does it look like to receive the implanted Word and then show it to the world? It looks a lot like Mary. To be, like her, rich soil for the seed of God to grow is to beblessed.
The God-bearing life
What Mary felt was no bug.
Deep inside her, in her heart and in her womb, was the fluttering of the eternal Son of God made man. And Mary is just the beginning of what God is going to do in all of us—make us God-bearers. You and me. People who, like Mary, can receive Christ into ourselves and then bear him to the world. We too can be “holy ground” when we can say “Yes!” to God.
Can I just say, why aren’t you dancing?
We are called to be God-bearers to the world! “Joy to the world! The Lord has come! Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare him room!” When Isaac Watts wrote these lines, he pretty much summed it up: Let every heart prepare him room.
To be a tabernacle for the living God. To hear and to keep the Word, and then to birthGod to the world. And because the church’s existence traces back to the moment when the divine Word took flesh from Mary’s womb, we get our cues from Mary ever virgin, bride, spouse, and mother, the very symbol of the church. The church is called to be the living ark of the new covenant, the God-bearer to the world.
The only question is, will you follow Mary’s example?