The stories of Jesus’ and the Baptizer John’s origins are simultaneously intimate and earth-shattering. History is about to change, but it begins not in palaces, with battles, or in the distance, but in the intimate recesses of minds and bodies.
In the reading from Luke, Mary’s encounter with the angel is “perplexing”—well might she wonder what kind of greeting this might be (Luke 1:29). God’s intentions seem to concern her very self, and their depth and impact are staggering.
God’s intimate engagement with us is also the theme of Psalm 139. God’s knowledge of us is extraordinary, but it’s not easy to accept. How fully do we really want to be known? Reading this psalm, we may be (rightly) caught up in the “nice” parts, the sense of transcendence and intimacy with the one who searches us out and knows us. If we realise the full extent of this knowledge, however, it is not just overwhelming but difficult to live with.
Most of us rely on not admitting at least some part of who we are, whether in our buried present or our forgotten past. The psalmist’s own unattractive aspects, however, are fully on show in verses 19–22, as the text shifts with disconcerting speed from the heights and depths of the divine encounter to an ironic and unattractive intolerance of God’s enemies (whom God presumably knows, too, and can cope with better than we or the psalmist can). Skipping these verses is appealing—feel free to do so if you’ve never entertained a violent or hateful thought. Otherwise, consider again that God really does know you and loves you anyway. And that, as for Mary, God’s willingness to engage with our real and truest selves intimately is what may make us who we are really meant to be.
How well do you think you know yourself? Do others know you better?
How do you deal with aspects of Scripture that express difficult or unattractive feelings or ideas? Are those feelings worse than your own?
God, you search me out and you know me. Help me to know myself more and more as you know me, and to become who I truly am for you. Amen.