Luke: “…God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph…”
The first thing you notice about how Mary approached Christmas is that she didn’t. Christmas approached her: “God sent the angel…” He initiates the encounter. This heavenly message drastically upended Mary’s expectations. She had no plans to be Mary, mother of God. She was going to simply be Mrs. Joseph, wife of carpenter. She was going to raise a family in a little (but well-built) home in a corner of Galilee. But Gabriel interrupted all that with, “ You who are highly favored!” The greeting (the favor, if you will) shattered Mary’s world.
Gabriel shatters our world, too. His message changes everything; God has initiated contact. You think you are preparing for Christmas in 2020, only to find out that from eternity past Christmas was preparing for you. You don’t really search out the Incarnation, but it is stalking 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 it is an encounter that alters every expectation. Therefore, preparing for the Incarnation is less like a pilgrimage up into the heavens and more like the whistling realization that a bomb is streaking down toward you. Christmas knocks you off-balance.
Luke: “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”
Mary was thrown, yet her initial reaction to the angel was 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 as “agitated, much disturbed.” Eugene Peterson 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’s 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. You would think that the fright is from an immaterial being suddenly flashing into your room without so much as a knock on the door. But it is more than that. Just as Christmas is far more than the mystery of God coming in man (though that is shocking), Christmas is the mystery of God coming for man. Christmas is favor.
Luke: “…you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
So this year, prepare for Christmas by being unprepared. Let yourself be thrown. Somewhere in this season there will be an epiphany. You won’t expect it; it will just appear. Perhaps you will sense Christ standing beside you in the dark or shining on you through a candle, a star, or through 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 (favor) throw you and become surprise. Try gasping. Open your hands. Your heart. Say, as Mary did, “…may it be to me as you have said.”
It is Advent. God is coming. You are highly favored.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed clinical mental health counselor (LCMHC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean; they have seven children and nine grandchildren.
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