Sat Dec 18-How Can This Be?

During Advent, we are featuring devotionals written by clergy of the Greater NJ Annual Conference of the UMC. For this third week, we are focused on reflections related to Mary, based on the Gospel of Luke.

Luke 1:26-38 (CEB)

26 When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, 27 to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” 29 She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. 31 Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. 33 He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. 36 Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. 37 Nothing is impossible for God.”

38 Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.


On my twenty-first birthday I called Lucky’s in Northampton MA, the local tattoo shop, and scheduled an appointment to get my first tattoo. I was ready to ink myself with the promise I had made to God – where you lead me, I will go. It was a promise I made the summer before as I laid everything I was and everything I had at the cross. I made a promise that wherever God led me, I would go.

It was toward the end of April, and I was standing in Seelye Hall (the humanities building at my alma mater Smith College) and the name of my District Superintendent at the time flashed across my screen. When I answered, the question was… “Where did you settle on for seminary?” When I told him Princeton, he said, “Great – just checking!”

A few weeks later, the same name in the same place flashed across my screen, “When are you
going to be home? We have an appointment for you.”

How could this be?! I was a few weeks away from graduating from my undergrad, I had little to no idea what I was doing, and I was terrified. How could I… a 21 year old almost college graduate who hadn’t even started seminary yet lead a church? How could I… How will I…? I accepted the appointment, but fear and anxiety welled through me at every chance. I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t confident.

Two years later, while sitting in my Methodist History and Doctrine class during seminary, the same name flashed on my phone. “Gabrielle, we have a full time appointment for you.” What?! How was I going to do full time ministry
and full time school? I wasn’t done with seminary, I wasn’t done with my paperwork for the Board of Ordained Ministry yet, I didn’t think I was ready… But I had made this deal with God.

Two years after that, another District Superintendent’s name flashed across my phone with the words: “We have a new
appointment for you.” I was moving to the other end of the state, I was leaving my small church for a bigger one, I was moving from a solo pastor to being a pastor on staff. I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t convinced I could do it…. But I had made this deal with God.

Fourteen months after that call, yet another District Superintendent’s name flashed across my phone “Gabrielle we need you.” I didn’t know if I was capable, if I could, if it was the right time… but I had made this deal with God. I promised that no matter what happened in my life, if God called me, I would go. I believed, and still believe that God is ever present at the cabinet table in the appointment process. I believed each time I was moved that God was moving in that call. Each place I served, each congregation and community I have loved have been a gift from God. They have taught me many different things and brought me to many different understandings of God and the role of the church in the world. They have formed me and shaped me in ways I didn’t know was possible. Yet, at each turn I resonated with Mary’s question: “How will this be since I am a young woman?” I had so many reasons why these couldn’t or shouldn’t work out. But, just like Mary, when I leaned into the promise I had made to God, and trusted that no matter what God would make a way, something amazing and incredible happened. God was with me, just like God was with Mary.

Even though Scripture only records Mary asking this question once, I imagine that at many different points in Mary’s pregnancy and life with Jesus she asked this question – “But how will this be?” When Joseph stays with her, I imagine she asked him, “But how will this work?” as she approached the already crowded inn and was directed to the stable, “But how will this be?” When the shepherds showed up and the wisemen showed up, and countless other times in Mary’s life the question and answer remained – it will be because God’s word never fails. God’s word never failed for Mary, never failed for me, and will never fail for you.

By the Rev. Gabrielle Corbett

For Pondering & Prayer

Prayer: God, when I sense your Spirit nudging me in a direction, when a door to something new unexpectedly opens, when I have a new call to serve in a new way, help me to be willing to say yes. Amen.

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