Often at Christmas, as we celebrate the coming of our King as a baby in the manger, my mind wanders to young Mary, a virgin, engaged to Joseph, and pregnant with the Son of God. Today I think about her conversation with the angel, Gabriel, whom God had sent to Nazareth (Luke 1) And I wonder if we are available to receive a visit from an angel of God, to hear God’s words of encouragement, to follow the path He establishes for us like Mary was. Christmas is a great time to reassess our relationship with God. Mary had lots of things going on in her life yet she stopped everything, changed direction, and followed the course set before her. I pray as we look at this exchange between Gabriel and Mary, we will stop in our tracks, listen to God and His messengers, and be willing to let the coming of the King transform us all over again.
First off, we see Gabriel just “shows up”! He “came in” to speak to Mary out of nowhere. She wasn’t prepared for this visitation. She didn’t know anyone was coming. She was just being about business with a right heart before the Lord. She, like others of that time, was waiting for the coming of the King. And in her waiting she stayed hopeful and obedient in faith, and SURPRISE! An angel shows up with a very important message.
As we prepare to celebrate once again the coming of the King, we must stay hopeful and obedient in faith because God has surprises in store for us as well. We are no longer waiting for the birth of King Jesus, but we eagerly wait for His coming back to bring us all home. We have no idea when or how God might bring a message to us. Why not take a lesson from Mary and live righteously, positioning ourselves to receive anything and everything God has for us?
The first word from Gabriel’s mouth when he shows up is “REJOICE!”(v.28) What a great word reminder to redo joy again and again! “Re-joying” is something we get to do constantly! Go ahead – renew yourself in joy daily! Take joy in the life of Christ repeatedly! The act of rejoicing is life changing and sustaining! This was a common greeting at that time, one I think should be resurrected in the church today, not just at Easter, but every day! Instead of saying “Hello” which requires nothing of us, we could say “Rejoice” and be reminded to return the joy we have received as children of the King and get more!
Mary was caught off-guard when Gabriel just “comes in” and says “…Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (v.28) I don’t know about you, but this makes me ask the question “What does it take to be highly favored?” Is Mary the only one EVER highly favored or can we too experience this favor? I think most of us gloss over this favor of God because we see Mary’s visitation as not just a “once in a lifetime” happening, but a “once in eternity” event (which it was and is). Obviously, she is the only one who ever carried the Son of God within, literally, as a baby, and that isn’t going to happen again! But, can we want to be so in love with our Lord that we rejoice daily, and find ourselves in His favor, presence, and blessing?
Praise God for Mary and her willingness to bring our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to us AND praise God that He has more in store for the rest of us as well. We should be encouraged and desire to hear God say the same of us. Since He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, He has favor, desires our presence, and calls us blessed today as well. Is it possible to get caught “off-guard” today or do we think God never visits His people anymore?
Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s appearance is the same as most of us would react today. She was troubled, didn’t understand what was happening, and curious about his intentions. Without her saying a word, Gabriel sensed her trepidation and said “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (v.30) Just as suddenly as he showed up, he was able to set her mind at ease.
Truth is, those words should set our minds at ease as well. When we live in the fear and awe of God, we trust in His favor, we fear nothing but Him, AND words of reassurance are still necessary. It is better to humble oneself and let God lift you up than be full of pride and have Him put you down. (James 4:10) One of my daughters was in a music production and one day the director called her down in front of the entire cast on stage. She immediately was troubled in spirit, quickly assessed what she might have done to get in trouble, and humbly stood before him. She had fear even though she couldn’t think of anything she had done wrong. He immediately put her at ease when he pointed out there was a person in front of her who WAS messing around and he expected my daughter to help straighten her out or let her know she wouldn’t be on stage anymore. Not that she enjoyed holding someone else accountable but at least she knew she was in right standing and had found favor with the director. She presented herself humbly and he raised her up.
In the same way we may know we are living in the grace, knowledge, and obedience of our Most High God, but when He shows up with a message, when He speaks into our lives through His Word and Spirit, we react with humility, coming before Him in fear, even troubled if need be, standing before a holy God, and just maybe, we will hear these words of reassurance that we have found favor and are blessed.
Next up? Mary gets more good news from Gabriel. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.” (v.31) Well, that’s good news NOW, but can you imagine being Mary and getting this news for the first time? You’re just minding your own business, loving God and loving life and an angel shows up to tell you how highly favored you are and because of that, He has a job for you? Yeah, you get to be pregnant with His Son. Hmmm… What? Finding favor gets a girl pregnant? Won’t everyone assume the worst? That’s what I get? That’ me thinking – Not Mary though. Again, before she can even respond, Gabriel brings assurance. “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (v. 32-33)
Personally, I wonder if Mary “caught” any of those awesome words. I mean seriously. She is just hanging out in Nazareth, maybe planning her wedding and future marriage to Joseph(a good-looking carpenter), thinking how blessed her life is, and Gabriel shows up out of nowhere, telling her how special she is, AND, oh, by the way, your whole life is about to change. Trash your wedding and future plans because God is about to change the course of your life drastically! How do you focus on the “greatness” of the child you are going to be pregnant with when you’ve never even had sex? Okay, those are just my thoughts AGAIN…But Mary?
We can tell where her thoughts were because her first response is “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (v.34) She moved right past “Who” she would be pregnant with to a more pertinent question in her world, “How?” She isn’t asking this in doubt or lack of faith in a God who does the impossible. She is simply inquiring how she is going to get pregnant since everyone knows there is only one way for this to happen, and Mary KNOWS she hasn’t done that! She knows the Messiah will come through a virgin but her? So how?
Gabriel has spent more time talking about her Son but pauses his discourse about Jesus to answer her question as to “how” it will happen because her motives are pure. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you…” (v.35) Well, there you go! That clears it all up! Haha! Not for me if I was Mary! Again, if it were me I would be thinking questions like; Huh? I’m not going to have sex but I’m going to be pregnant? Holy Spirit is going to come on me? What? Am I going to feel it? Will I know when it happens? Do I have to do anything special to prepare myself? I just don’t get it!
Not Mary though. She listens. There is a reason she is highly favored. She knew how to listen. We need to learn from Mary! Listening is imperative to being used by God. Real listening – not just nodding our head in approval without giving thought to what is said. When we listen, we hear, and when we hear we receive, and when we receive, we do! No questions needed!
Immediately after Gabriel tells her “how” he returns to proclaiming news of Jesus “…therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (v.35) The message was and always will be about Jesus. Notice something about this dialogue between Gabriel and Mary. She only says ONE thing! God via Gabriel does the talking. We likewise need to do a whole lot less talking and whole lot more listening. Our lives reflect our ability and willingness to listen. Mary listened to God before this visit from Gabriel, during, and after. It’s why she was highly favored! She pondered everything in her heart as she listened to the voice of God.
Friends, Christmas is not about us! It never was and never will be! Christmas does however afford us a time to reflect! And today, may it be a day of reflection on where we stand before a holy God, our willingness to have Him visit and change the course of our lives, and discovering our listening skills. We might not have an angel “come in” and bring a message to us. But then again, we might! The important thing is that we live humbly before Him, expectant, and ready to follow His steps, even though He might turn our lives upside down and inside out! Mary’s life would never be the same! Can we say the same?