So, you know how when you read the same story over and over, new things stick out to you each time. Each Easter and Christmas we hear the same stories. Each year though, it seems that something new sticks out to me in these familiar stories. It’s beautiful to know that there is so much richness and depth in God’s word I’ll never reach the bottom. So, this year in the Christmas story, Luke 1:35 is the verse that is jumping out at me and screaming a lesson, which was always there, but I’ve never seen. Mary has asked the angel the obvious question when a virgin is told she’ll be pregnant…How?
“The angel answered “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks, this verse is so familiar. It hearkens back to another time when the Spirit of God came over something and brought life. Life from nothing. Ex nihilo. It screams of creation – a new creation! In Genesis the Spirit of God is described as hovering over the waters. In Luke, He comes upon Mary and overshadows her. Hovering and overshadowing, the images drawn up in my mind of these two pictures are so similar. Those two words can have such negative connotations in our society, but the images they evoke for me are far from negative. It’s more like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night. Or better yet, an artist carefully inspecting his painting, working on the fine details. Or a potter, hunched over his wheel, tenderly, carefully shaping and molding. Protecting his precious work, knowing one unthoughtful touch could destroy it. (Or at this moment, a mother hovering over her laptop keyboard hoping her one year old won’t erase every word she’s tried to write over the past 4 days!)
In Hebrew culture, large bodies of water were terrifying things. It was the kind of fear that comes from knowing something is so much bigger than you, and you can’t control it. The better English translation for seas would be “chaotic deep”. Imagine a world with no meteorologists. Storms come from over the seas. Unpredictable. Dangerous. A beautiful morning fishing trip can quickly become fatal. The ocean’s waves were and still are untamable. Floods – the overflow of danger. We often forget the dangers in our modern, scientific world because we have so many tools to predict and manage the risk. But we still haven’t been able to control the waves. The Hebrew people also lacked our scientific tools for measuring the depth of the waters. They only knew they couldn’t reach the bottom. It was a mysterious place. Full of wonder and uncontrollable power. The oceans have not lost their mystery, despite our modern technology. People flock from all over to sit on a beach and just listen to the power of the ocean’s roar. To see the waves come in and out, in and out. You could watch it forever. It’s at once soothing and overwhelming.
To say that the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters gave God the power to control, to contain this chaotic deep. Something so overwhelming to humans bows to the command of an Almighty God. It is the place God begins to do His creative work. From this untamable force (which God first made), He brings forth order, and life. Just as He does with Mary.
And just as He does with us. When I hear the phrase “chaotic deep”, I instantly think of my soul. Yes, isn’t that the best description. An untamable force from my perspective. The soul has depths that no human can reach. We know these depths by the evidence we see of its existence. The longings and aches words can’t describe. The joy that feels like our bodies can’t contain. My soul, so chaotic. The storms, unpredictable. My desires, dangerous. And yet, it is still the canvas God uses to create new life. Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the waters at creation, and just as He came over Mary to bring forth Jesus, the Spirit of the living God gently covers me and brings forth order and new life. From my chaotic deep. How fearfully and wonderfully made indeed.