Christmas songs are playing on the radio and in all the stores, songs about mistletoe, Rudolf and white Christmases.
We celebrate love and peace. We celebrate the birth of a Savior. We sing about peace on earth and joy to the world.
Truly, the birth of Jesus Christ in the manger at Bethlehem is worth celebrating. He is God with us, Emmanuel, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. He is our hope and salvation, and represents God’s favor toward us.
In spite of the celebration and the words we hear about God’s love for us, it may not seem that God loves us. With all that happens in our lives and in our world, it can seem at times that God is not here. Do we really enjoy God’s favor? What does it look like to be favored of God?
Mary was a young virgin engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. She was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus. She, of all people, represents what it means to be favored of God. Mary said of herself, “. . . and from now on all generations will call me blessed.” When the angel greeted Mary, he said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
Even this greeting shows Mary was favored of God. As we consider Luke’s account of this moment in history, we will learn truths about God’s favor.
The first truth is, “It changes everything.”
Luke 1:29 tells us Mary was confused and disturbed by the angel’s greeting. Let’s consider this.
First, it was unusual to get a message from an angel. Gabriel and Michael are the only angels named in Scripture. Earlier in Luke chapter 1 Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and said of Himself, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God.” An important messenger delivers important news. The appearance of an angel or angels usually causes fear. The importance and appearance of the messenger would have been unsettling for Mary.
The greeting the angel started with was also strange to Mary. He started with a greeting that meant grace and favor and named her as one who was favored of God. Then he stated, “The Lord is with you.”
The next verse tells us she was trying to figure out what such a greeting might mean. In other words, this was not a typical greeting.
Both the message and the messenger signaled that this was a major event. Mary’s world was about to change. In fact, this greeting signaled the beginning of events that would change the world forever.
There are moments and events in all of our lives that come as life changers. These events can be either good or bad, but they are events that leave us disturbed and wondering, trying to figure out what these things mean.
The question is, “Can we trust God?”
The angel reassured Mary. “Don’t be afraid, Mary.” (Luke 1:30)
The Lord Jesus reassured His disciples. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” (John 14:1)
The Lord God reassured Israel. “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
The Lord reassures us. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)
The message the angel brought was just as astonishing as the greeting had been. He said:
You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” (Luke 1:31-33)
Again, Mary was left confused and wondering. So, she asked a question. “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” (Luke 1:34)
The angel then explained one of the greatest miracles that God ever performed. He said:
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)
This was so amazing that the angel gave this important additional piece of information. “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)
When Zechariah received the message that he would have a son in his old age he did not believe it. Consequently, he was stricken and unable to speak until the child was born. When Abraham received the message that he would have a son in his old age he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.
These events are similar to events like Israel standing at the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army coming behind them, or David facing Goliath. They are all beyond human capabilities.
We all have one big issue that is beyond our capabilities. The issue is sin. We can do nothing to save ourselves from sin.
The similarity in all these events or situations is that we must trust what the angel said, “Nothing is impossible with God.” God parted the Red Sea and destroyed Pharaoh’s army. God enabled David to defeat Goliath. God gave Isaac to Abraham. God gave John to Zechariah. God washed away our sins with the blood of His own Son.
We all face events or news that will leave us confused and wondering how these things can be. The question is, do we believe God like Abraham or doubt like Zechariah?
Mary chose to believe and accepted the news with grace. She said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:38)
The greeting Mary received signaled a big change. The news was beyond human capabilities, and now we see that it would cost her everything.
Before we talk about the cost, let us consider what she was gaining. She says in the verses that follow:
Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! (Luke 1:46-51)
Mary was gaining the biggest blessing and privilege of any person in history. She was to be the mother of the Savior of the World, God in human flesh. Her Son was the Son of the Most High God.
However, consider the cost.
People would look down on her. Her own fiancé was going to divorce her quietly because of the pregnancy. The only thing that stopped him was the intervention of a messenger from God. Mary’s word was apparently not good enough. The Bible does not tell us what other people thought, but even today, many people do not believe that Mary was a virgin.
Besides the cost of community acceptance, Mary suffered. This is what was prophesied of her, “. . . a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:25)
We assume this meant that she would have to watch her Son die on a cross. However, we do not know what she had to suffer as the mother of the Son of God. This one prophecy gives us an idea that she suffered greatly as opposition to the ministry of Jesus grew to the point of His murder.
Mary did not know what the cost would be, but her response shows that she understood what was required of her. She said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:38)
Mary classified herself as a servant.
The word is slave.
In a culture and age where slavery was an institution enforced by the government, being a slave meant to be wholly owned by someone else and to be entirely at their disposal.
When God favors us, it costs everything.
Abraham left his home and family in Mesopotamia. Moses gave up the riches and privileges of being a prince in Egypt. Paul gave up being a privileged ruler of Israel. Hebrews 11 speaks of people who paid the price saying:
Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:36-38)
God promises new life. God promises eternal life. God promises that in this world we will have trouble. (John 16:33)
God chooses that some prosper and have the world’s goods. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Job and many others were very prosperous. This does not mean they did not suffer in their turn. However, what we know of these people is that they were not their own. They belonged to God. Their money and possessions were God’s money and possessions.
What is troubling is the lifestyle that says, “I can accept God’s gift, but I am still my own person. I like having my sins forgiven. I like the idea of eternal life. Heaven sounds wonderful. However, tithing is a burden. Fellowshipping with other Christians is a bore. Trying to control my desire for sex, or food, or money, or acceptance, or what I want is not necessary. Besides, God wants me to be happy, and this makes me happy.
Salvation is free. It is a gift. However, the Apostle Paul puts it this way:
Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
Christmas changes everything. The birth of the Savior changes everything. It was an event that was beyond human capacity, even bigger than the biggest events of your life. The next time you face a life-changing moment will you face it like Mary did, “I am the Lord’s servant . . .”
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.