“God is doing a new thing.” – Isaiah 43
I have heard this scripture passage quoted multiple times in the last three years and it still stirs something within me.
Do you feel it too?
God is doing something new in this cultural moment. But how do we receive it?
As we anticipate Advent, a season of expectant waiting, we can learn from the characters who awaited the arrival of something entirely new – when God took on flesh. Let us take our cue from the one who literally made room in her body for the new thing God was doing within her – Mary, the mother of God.
When the Angel Gabriel arrives to declare the news that God was going to do doing a new thing through the Messiah in her womb, she responds with two “I am” statements.
- “How will this be…since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1: 34 NIV)
- “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 NIV)
These two statements reveal a lot about the kind of posture needed to receive the new thing God was doing in her, and in us.
The first statement, “I am a virgin” is a recognition of the limits of her body. It is not humanly possible for her to bear a child. She is a virgin. She also admits that she is limited in her understanding as she leans in and asks, “How will this be?”
I don’t know about you, but when I come up against the limits of my humanity, either in my body or in my understanding, I see them as obstacles to be overcome.
- I multitask to overcome the limits of my time.
- I frantically google search to overcome the limits of my knowledge.
- I take zoom calls while driving to overcome the limits of space.
But – what if our limits are not obstacles to overcome, but invitations to embrace?
Mary’s question “how will this be” places her limits before God. Rather than trying to rise above her limits to be like God, she asks how God could work within her human limits. It is here that we find God creates something new.
So, let me ask you:
- Where are you feeling limited in the face of God’s call on your life?
- How might those limits be the access point for God to something new?
I love how Gabriel responds to Mary’s question. Here’s the way I put it in my new book, Making Room in Advent:
“When the Spirit of God hovers over creation, impossible things are formed out of nothing. When God breathes into dust, he makes it come alive…As creation yields to Creator, he breathes in her the breath of life to form the timeless into something new. And as he grows within her, she too will expand to accommodate what is beyond her understanding. The transcendent God will inhabit and yet stretch within the limits of her humanity.”
Mary responds to this explanation with her second “I am” statement: “I am the Lord’s servant.”
Mary acknowledges that she is limited, yes. She is dust, but she is also his dust. And so – she surrenders herself to her creator as she says, “may it be to me according to your word.” The word used for “be” there is also translated, “to be made – to come into existence.”
And so, as the waters yielded under the word of God to form light, Mary yields her body so the word of God could become flesh.
Like Mary, the Holy Spirit hovers over us and says, “I want to dwell with you. I want to become flesh through you – through your unique personality, gifts, gender, ethnic identity, and DNA. I want to create something new through your limited time, capacity, and resources. Surrender your limits to me and watch me do the miraculous. I will dwell within you, and when I do, those who encounter you will see me in the flesh.”
God creates something new within us at the intersection of our limits and surrender.
The Intersection of Limits and Surrender
In this particularly busy holiday season, how might you surrender your limits to God as a vehicle for his presence in your life?
Maybe you choose to accept that you have limited time, so you don’t put up all the Christmas decorations to make room for attentive presence with your family.
Maybe you accept the limits on your energy and rather than trying to overcome your exhaustion with late night coffee to finish that project, you choose to surrender yourself to sleep, trusting that God works while you rest.
What new life might emerge if we, like Mary, surrender our limits to God as a dwelling place? Because when we surrender those limits to him, he whispers over us “let there be life. Let there be light.”
Mary teaches us that the new thing God is doing isn’t always “out there” in some abstract form. God isn’ interested in creating something apart from us. He is interested in creating something “in here” – within us as individuals and communities as we surrender to become the new creation He is shaping us to be.
If you’d like to create some space to encounter God in limits of this season, click here to get an audio-guided meditation by Bette Dickinson on the painting “the Annunciation,” from her new book, Making Room in Advent.
Bette Dickinson is a prophetic artist, writer, and speaker who invites audiences to connect with God through visual parables of the spiritual journey in her ministry Awakening the Soul.
Bette earned her MDiv through Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and has worked with ministries like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, World Vision, Infinitum, and Kensington Church to awaken the soul through beauty and wonder. She is the author of the book Making Room in Advent.
Get the Book!
Image taken from Making Room in Advent by Bette Dickinson. Copyright (c)2022 by Bette Dickinson. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.
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