“…God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee to virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph…”
The first thing you notice about how Mary approached Christmas is that she wasn’t (approaching Christmas). It came to her. “God sent the angel…” and initiates the encounter. The heavenly message drastically upended the course of Mary’s expectation. She had no plans to be “Mary, mother of God”. She was going to be “Mrs. Joseph, wife of carpenter”. She was going to raise a family in a little (well-built) home in a Galilean corner. But Gabriel interrupted, “You who are highly favored!” The greeting shattered Mary’s world.
Gabriel shatters our world, too. His message changes everything. God has initiated contact. You prepare for Christmas, only to find out that from eternity past, it was prepared for you. You don’t really approach the Incarnation; it approaches you. God shows up at your house uninvited and grants His favor without asking your permission. He is with you, before you come to Him. And the encounter alters every expectation. Therefore preparing for the Incarnation is less like a pilgrimage into the heavens and more like realizing that a bomb is hurtling toward you. Christmas knocks you off-balance.
“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”Mary was thrown. Her initial reaction to the angel is the same as everyone else in the Bible who encountered a heavenly visitor. Like the shepherds, she was ‘terrified’ (Luke 2.9). Like Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, she was ‘gripped with fear’ (Luke 1.12). Luke tells us that Mary was ‘greatly troubled’, which can be translated; ‘agitated, much disturbed or stirred up’. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrased it as, “She was thoroughly shaken…” And the Amplified Bible finishes the verse: ‘(Mary) kept revolving in her mind what such a greeting might mean.” Mary head spun. Gabriel spoke, the earth tilted and Mary was thrown.
But understand, Mary was thrown by favor. That won’t make sense at first. At first you think that the fright is the fright of an immaterial being suddenly flashing into your room without so much as knocking on the door. But it is more than that. Christmas is far more than the miracle of God coming in man (though that is shocking). Christmas is the miracle of God coming for man. Christmas is favor.
“…you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
So, this year, prepare for Christmas by being found unprepared. Let yourself be thrown. Somewhere, this season, there will be an epiphany. You won’t expect it; it will just appear. Perhaps, you will sense Christ standing behind you or shining on you through a candle, a star or the eyes of someone who loves you. Perhaps you will hear the voice of God in a phrase from a carol or in a sentence of scripture. Let fright throw you and become surprise. Open your hands. Your heart. Say like Mary, “…may it be to me as you have said.”
God is coming. You are highly favored.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. In addition to counseling individuals and couples, Roger teaches and leads discussion groups about applying the Bible to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor, holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean, and they have seven children.