How many times in life do we say or hear someone else say, "How can this be?"
My friend who lost in-vitro twins at 23 weeks cried, "How can this be. I ate right, took care of myself. We prayed for God to care for these babies. How can this be?"
A neighbor whose 35 year-old sister was recently diagnosed with breast cancer told me, "How can this be? She is so young, exercises and lives a healthy lifestyle? How can this be?"
Far too many times the words, "How can this be?" bring together thoughts of something unfair, unexpected, undeserved.
The angel came to Mary, explaining that she was chosen to carry God's son. Mary replied, "How can this be?"
Mary surely was not expecting a declaration from an angel. Her confusion is recorded, "Mary was deeply troubled by the angel's message, and wondered what the words meant." The angel explained further God's mission. Eventually Mary replied, "I am the Lord's servant, may it happen to me as you have said."
We can tap the angel's words when situations in which we say, "How can this be?" occur to us or to those we love. First the angel said, "Peace to you. The Lord is with you." Knowing that we are never alone, that God is always present, is solid grounding for whatever happens in life. The angel reminded Mary that God was with her. We can remember the angel's words that God is with us.
Second, the angel tells Mary not to be afraid. Fear is an unwelcome part of any unexpected event--fear about a diagnosis of cancer: what will happen next--fear when a job is lost: where will I get money to pay bills? Practices that deepen one's connection to God can sustain when fear is present but perseverance is needed.
Third, when the angel explained that Elizabeth, Mary's cousin, was also pregnant. The angel concluded, "There is nothing that God cannot do." These words offer hope. Hope that peace will come. Hope that persons saying "How can this be?" will find light in darkest circumstances.
So when we say "How can this be?" during trying times, we can rest in the angel's words to Mary: "The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid. There is nothing that God cannot do."
God is present; God is hope. God's love can sustain us through the darkest night.