The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you … For nothing will be impossible with God. (Luke 1:35a, 37 NRSV)
The hollowing out of Christianity appears to be approaching its logical conclusion. For a few hundred years now, we’ve been excising from faith any notion of the supernatural. We explain the life of faith in naturalistic terms. We tell our own history and read our own Scriptures with the detachment of an atheist. We appeal to sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists to explain what used to be called the life of the spirit.
The emergence of atheist gatherings that meet on Sunday, include elements that mimic church liturgy, and boast of providing the benefits of church without the taint of religion is the logical outcome of a Christianity that more and more strives to have the outward form of religion without getting tangled up with the power.
There is a good reason why we seek religion without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will mess you up. Ask Zechariah. The Holy Spirit will change your life. Ask Moses. Ask Paul. Ask Mary.
I read these words from Luke today, and I am struck by the simplicity and power of the angel’s words to Mary. I am struck as well by the importance of them. The Holy Spirit overpowers us. Jesus is formed in us, not by anything we do. Indeed, it is impossible for us bear Christ by our own doing. We are barren as Elizabeth when it comes to the Spirit. But nothing is impossible for God.
These issues grab me so much because, frankly, I am prone to falling into the spirit of our age. I’m a child of late 20th century American culture. I’ve been taught and trained to see with eyes that take no account of the invisible God. I know more of Jungian archetypes and the collective unconscious than the dark night of the soul. I’m always at risk of using empty words when I talk about the Holy Spirit because I would rather stay in control. I don’t want to be overpowered or overshadowed. And so, I am prone to discount the angel’s words to Mary. If I am not vigilant, if I am not among others who walk with me in the light of the Spirit, I tell myself, if only in secret, that all things are not possible. I resolve to exist in the hollowed out shell of a world in which the I imagine the Holy Spirit has no power.
Here at the beginning of his gospel, Luke is telling me not to fall prey to that lie.