Christians have heard the story of Jesus’ birth many times, but if we really stop to think about it, the idea of a virgin giving birth to the savior can sound unbelievable.

The story was made possible because someone — Mary — said yes.

“How did she set aside her fear and relinquish control?” asked the Rev. Jessica Tate, director of NEXT Church, a network of leaders across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who provide space for hopeful conversations about the theology, culture and practice of ministry in a time of adaptive change.

The groups national gathering is March 4-5 here.

Like the church today, Mary was at a “crossroads moment” where the promise of hope seemed distant and the risk of loss was obvious, Tate said.

But Mary found the faith to enter into uncertainty. This example can teach us “how to inhabit this space of radical availability to God,” Tate said.

We don’t inhabit this space often. We prefer assured results and for the odds to be in our favor, Tate said. We implore ourselves to be open to God, but we don’t do Advent well.

We know the many reasons for fear: a struggling church, gun violence, war, health problems, Tate continued. So we plan, prepare and over-schedule in an attempt to assure our security.

“I wonder if we don’t ‘prepare’ God right out of our plans and out of our lives,” Tate said.

When the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary, he told her not to be afraid because God is with her.

“God is with us,” Tate concluded. “Prepare to be surprised.”

Following Tate’s sermon, conference participants heard from the Rev. Paul Roberts, president-dean of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary.

The idea that we are called to create what’s next for the church presumes that we are co-creators with God, Roberts said.

Is there such a thing as passive Christianity? he asked. Is it OK to sit around and wait for gifts from God?

Views like this ignore the more challenging aspects of our faith, Roberts said.

“We are so much more than passive recipients of the goodness of our creator,” he said.

But of what exactly are we co-creators? We must proceed with thoughtful caution, listening and being aware of economics, peace, justice and inclusivity, he said.

“Let’s not listen like we’re chillin’ in a rocking chair,” Roberts said. “Let’s listen like we’re on the edge of the seat.”

Johnson C. Smith seminary, a historically African-American seminary, was founded in 1867. At that time, educating black people was a challenge to the status quo — it was “what’s next,” Roberts said.

“Our creator who calls us calls us to create what’s next,” he said.