Background Passages: Luke 1:26-38; James 4:6; John 3:16
The young woman bent low in the knees and ducked through the doorway of her father’s home a tall jar of water upon her shoulder. As she turned to place the vessel on the table she stared in fear at the angel standing near the fireplace.
“Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you.”
As the jar of water crashed to the floor, Mary back away toward the door in fear and confusion. Quickly, the angel spoke, his voice comforting and concerned, “Do not be afraid. Mary, you have found favor with God.”
As the angel laid out God’s plan for Mary’s life, I cannot fathom the whirlwind of emotions she experienced. Her world turned upside down.
Through God’s great gift of Christmas, the final piece of creation’s puzzle fell in place, planned before time…perfected through the life, death and resurrection to come. Mary heard the words of the angel and struggled to understand the heady revelation that she, an ordinary young woman from an inconsequential village in Galilee, would be the vessel through whom God chose to present himself to the world.
As profound as those words might have been, had I been Mary, I might have wrestled as much with the beginning of the angel’s message…
“You have found favor with God.”
In the world’s language, to show favoritism is to show exceptional kindness to someone, especially in comparison to the treatment of others. Preferential treatment. In the first century, people believed that wealth, health and blessing were signs of God’s favor upon you. That you had done something to earn his favor.
Consider Mary’s life following the angel’s announcement. It hardly speaks to preferential treatment. Her life spun out of control almost immediately.
Joseph had every right to disown her and discredit her publicly. Though he embraced a similar angelic message, others would be less understanding. A few months later, she faced an arduous and uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem in her last trimester. Upon their arrival, the only place available to them was an unholy stable among the animals. She gave birth far from family and friends who might celebrate with her.
A short time later, she fled to a foreign land ahead of a king’s murderous soldiers who were intent upon killing her son. She later watched in dread as her son’s message of God’s forgiveness was met with scorn and hatred by the religious leaders of the day. She heard a bloodthirsty crowd call for his crucifixion. She watched from a distance and felt the echo of each hammer driving nails through the hands and feet of her beloved son. She wept at his feet as blood and life drained from his body.
If she thought at all of the angel’s announcement as she stood near the cross, I doubt she felt favored. This was hardly a life of preferential treatment. What, then, did it mean for Mary to find favor with God?
Nothing in scripture indicates that God’s favor falls upon people simply for their own enjoyment. We find those on whom God’s favor rests given great responsibility so the lives of others may be changed. So God might be glorified. Moses. Abraham. Job. These were men who found God’s favor. Nothing about their lives was easy. All carried the burden of life heavily on their shoulders.
You see, I often thought God chose Mary because of something uniquely righteous within her. That her faith was deeper and her life purer than any other…by extension, deeper and purer than my own life. Seeing Mary in those terms diminishes God’s work of grace. In many ways it cheapens the miracle of Christmas.
Bible scholars tell us that the word in Luke 1:30 which most Bible’s translate as “favor” is the same Greek word from which we get our word for “grace.”
“Mary, you have found God’s grace.”
Mary wasn’t chosen to be the mother of Jesus because her goodness outshone any other. Rather, God extended an offer of grace to Mary to be used by God for something which carried enormous responsibility. The angel’s declaration came, not because she deserved it. It came as a gift. Undeserved. Unmerited.
Mary could have rejected God’s offer. She could have said, “Not me. Find someone else.” Yet, she considered all the angel said and declared, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
With those words, Mary, as a young teenage girl, accepted God’s grace gift and all that it would entail without fully understanding the implications for her own life.
James 4:6 proclaims that “God opposes the proud, but shows favor (grace) to the humble.” It is this thought I had not considered in the Christmas story. That Mary found favor with God had little to do with her goodness and everything to do with her humble spirit. Her desire to be open to the possibilities God presented to her. That idea has implications for my life I had not considered.
I stand today a recipient of God’s favor, his unmerited grace. The offer to accept Jesus Christ as savior came through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, not because I deserved it, but as a gift undeserved. It came as an offer I could have refused. Yet, I considered all the spirit said to me and said in essence, “I am your servant.” With those words, as a nine-year-old boy, I accepted God’s grace gift and all it would entail without fully understanding the implications for my own life.
For any of us to embrace God’s gift of his son, there comes a point when we must humble ourselves before him, recognizing that it is not our goodness that merits his favor. It is through his unfailing love for us that his grace flows.
For those of us who have placed our faith and trust in Jesus, Christmas is a joyous reminder that God so loved the world that he sent his only son to be to be his grace gift to the world.
Mary humbly embraced the role God asked her to play and bore the burden of responsibility it carried with it. Like Mary, in response to God’s grace, may we, in all humility, be open to the possibilities God presents to us.