In our journey to Bethlehem we’ve discovered that the prophets spoke for God when God’s people got off track. The people then heard God’s voice, believed God’s promises and started to follow God again. Last week we looked at Elizabeth and Zechariah. Too old to bear children yet God promised them a son who would prepare the way for the savior. God came after 400 years of silence to carry out his plan to save us. Zachariah and Elizabeth hear God’s voice, believe God’s promises and follow the path God lays out for them.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:26-38
Hear God’s Voice.
Mary hears God’s voice. She doesn’t really have a choice. The angel stands and declares, God is going to do this unprecedented thing – this ridiculous thing. God is going to keep his promises through Mary and the baby she is about to conceive. Promises made long ago through the prophets – “Behold the virgin will be with child and give birth to a son…” The time is now.
Mary is baffled and confused. How can this be? She has never been with a man. The angel carefully explains. The Spirit of the most high God will over shadow her. This will happen.
Question: “Do you believe that God is still active in the world?”
One of the commentator’s I read this week speculated about the average Christian’s expectation of God’s activity in the world. He said, “Few of our people (in the church) imagine God to be an active character in the story of their lives.” And I wonder if he is right? It’s not that we don’t believe in God. It’s more that, day in and day out, God seems to be mostly passive. If God is doing anything, it’s pretty much hanging out in the background, watching, waiting, being supportive, encouraging.
Kind of like the old Bette Midler song, “God is watching us…from a distance.” Of Course that’s not the biblical picture of God. God watches but then God also gets involved. God does things, all kinds of things — great and small, mighty, mundane, or miraculous, God is constantly at work. God get’s entangled with us.
God’s greatest entanglement started with Mary. The angel Gabriel bursts unexpectedly into the life of an unsuspecting teenage girl and tells her that she has found favor of God and will conceive, carry, and bear the Son of God. God comes down to us. An incarnational entanglement.
Believe God’s promises.
To Mary’s credit she believes God’s promises. She believes that God is active in the world. One of the great statements of belief found in the entire Bible is the consent of this teenage girl who says yes to the angel. Yes to God’s plan. Yes to God’s promises. You may have heard these famous words before – “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be as you have said.” Or “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Follow God’s path.
Mary believes and follows even though her journey proved difficult. From the moment Gabriel speaks, Mary’s journey changes forever. Her story was definitely not the stuff of legends but, after first expressing dismay, she embraces the promise and summons the courage to believe. And God indeed favors Mary by working in her and through her to save the world.
She becomes Mary the mother of Jesus. We catch glimpses of what this looks like. Right after the birth of Jesus with its angelic announcement and visitation of the shepherds we are told she treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. She could have no idea what is coming in her journey.
She continues to bear the shame in her community of becoming pregnant before marriage. She’s a marked woman and the arrival of Jesus with these rumors of supernatural happenings did not remove her disgrace in her community. We see this later when Jesus returns to his home town to teach and heal. The towns’ people scoff at him - They say – isn’t this Mary’s boy. Read “Mary the tramp….” A prophet is not welcome at home. No doubt rumors followed her throughout her entire life. And even though Jesus gained recognition for his teaching and performing miracles Mary’s path would have been under a cloud of suspicion.
And her journey turns even darker when the crowds turn against Jesus. As Jesus is arrested and tried Mary watches a mockery of justice unfold with lightning speed. She sees her baby flogged and beaten. She sees her first-born son nailed to a cross and she watches day turn to night when the fruit of her womb dies. Her journey is swamped with grief as they remove the lifeless body of her baby boy. Mothers are not supposed to watch their children die. And this is the journey that Mary the “favored one” walks.
Another question: Do we think God is done interrupting people’s lives?
Do we see people around us who are also favored by God and through whom God plans to do marvelous things? Do we see ourselves as favored by God and called to a journey filled with the unexpected and miraculous? Imagine the many wonderful things God wants to accomplish through us when we hear, believe and follow.