holy spirit conceived
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I personally don’t ever remember an angel showing up to deliver an important message to me. Anyone? Yeah, me neither. But the first chapter of Luke’s gospel introduces us to a young woman who is visited by a messenger of God. The messenger says to her, “don’t be afraid; God’s gonna do something incredible with you—you’re going to bear the child of the Most High.” Of course, the woman is baffled, especially since her fiancé, as great as he is, is most certainly not the Most High God. He’s only an ordinary carpenter. Plus, they haven’t actually gotten married yet. So, “How is this possible?” she asks. And here’s the messenger’s response: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”
The woman then submits in obedience to the work of the Most High and the messenger leaves. Meanwhile, she’s heard that her old barren aunt is also pregnant with a promise from God, so she heads off to the hill country to celebrate with her aunt… and maybe also sort out what’s happening. The two women meet and the older woman’s unborn child leaps for joy in her belly. And she, filled with the Holy Spirit, blesses the younger woman.
This story is probably super familiar to most of us; we read it often in preparation for Christmas. But one phrase kept popping out to me, and that’s what I want to look deeper here.
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”
What’s intriguing about this to me is that weird phrase—is it a euphemism?— about the Holy Spirit “coming upon” Mary, the power of God overshadowing her. So, I started down a rabbit trail to figure out what Luke might mean here, and this is what I found: the Greek word Erchomai, which means “to come on or over someone” is a favorite word of Luke’s. Luke uses it seven times in his Gospel and the book of Acts, and it only appears two other times in the New Testament outside his writings. He’s got a corner on the market of this word. And… the form of the word that shows up here in the messenger’s conversation with Mary, eperchomai, is a personal address as a promise soon to be realized—and that form is only used one other time in Luke’s writing.
Where, you might ask? Well, I’m glad you asked! After Jesus was raised from the dead, he spent some time hanging out with his followers before he returned to his Father. And Luke in the first chapter of Acts records Jesus promising them,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1.8
And sure enough, not long after that, after Jesus returned to his Father, the group of believers (including Mary) “were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1-4)
Most often erchomai refers to destruction or judgment coming over someone or something—something stronger comes over something weaker. For instance, in Luke 11:21-22 when a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, and takes away all his armor. But here, in these two instances, it’s about the Holy Spirit, the power of God, coming on humans who are blessed/chosen by God.
As far as I can tell when I read this, it’s the same action of the Holy Spirit at both these events—on Mary at Jesus’ conception and on the believers at the birth of the Church.
So what does it mean that the same action of the Holy Spirit that led Mary to conceive the incarnated, very real Jesus, Son of the Most High—that same action of the Holy Spirit has also come upon the early believers. What does that mean for us?
Right after the Holy Spirt came upon the early believers, Peter stood up in front of a crowd
and quoted from the prophet Joel,
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)
The Holy Spirit has been poured out not just on those 120, but on all believers.
The same Holy Spirit that impregnated Mary with God has also impregnated us with God.
Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit, gave birth to Jesus, the fullness of God, who embodied the words of Isaiah 35 in his life. Can we also say that these first believers were impregnated by the Holy Spirit and became the Body of Christ, continuing on the life and work of Jesus, of loving their neighbors… and their enemies. Can we also say that, as believers and a particular expression of Christ’s Body, we, too, have been impregnated with God? Some people around here like to say that “a local church exists as the continuing presence of Christ’s body in a particular place.” (Eph 4.13, 15)
The same HS that impregnated Mary with God has also impregnated us with God. Therefore, we don’t need to be afraid to do the work God has called us to do for the shalom of God.
There certainly is something mysterious about this, something I, at least, don’t fully understand about the work and presence of the Holy Spirit filling us, dwelling within us. There’s probably more I don’t understand that what I do. But may I suggest three things that I think we can say about the Holy Spirit coming upon us, impregnating us with God:
Don’t be afraid. The messenger said this to Mary. The world is a dangerous place, scary and difficult place. But God has come upon us, so we need not be afraid. In fact, we have hope (an inward state of mind) and joy (the outward expression of hope) for God looks favorably on us (Philippians 4.4-5). We need not be afraid because it is the power of God that dwells within us (cf. Rom 8.11).
There is work to do. “You will be my witnesses,” Jesus says to his followers. Jesus brought a message of action and expected his extended expression (the people of the Way) to continue that work (cf. Philippians 1.6, 2.13).
Draw attention to God’s shalom. The Church is not the end or the goal. Just as Mary was, in many ways, merely a willing servant (Luke 1:38) for the work of God—someone who pointed, like John the Baptist, to the Good News of God, we too, the community of believers are merely a willing servant to point to the Good News of God, the reconciling restoring of all things to God. Even Jesus is not an end in himself—he himself points to his Father, our Creator, and the Good News of God’s shalom work (as he says in John 12.49-50 and as the hymn in Phil 2 reminds us)
So my friends, let us rejoice like Elizabeth and Mary! For God chose to dwell with and within them. And let us rejoice like the early believers who, filled with the Holy Spirit, worshipped and shared and served “with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2.46).
 “Merely” is certainly an understatement! Her willingness to submit to the work of God continues to ripple throughout the cosmos.