Advent is here. It’s a season of remembering and celebrating the coming of Christ. It’s a time of grace, but sometimes grace doesn’t always come in our favorite flavor.
When you think about experiencing grace, have you ever considered that it might first come in the disguise of disquieting news? Consider one of the key texts that tell the Advent/Christmas story:
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. (Lk 1:26-37)
A Troubling Message of Great Favor
Did you see Mary’s response to the angel’s calling her “highly favored?” It says that she was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what they meant. She is uncomfortably curious about what in world such a greeting actually meant. What is intended as a word of grace doesn't feel that way to her at first.
When the Lord speaks, we may not, at first, find His word to be comforting or encouraging, but troubling and unnerving. Not every divine message will always seem in the moment like the welcome good news that it actually is.
The angel is kind enough to speak to Mary’s troubled, puzzled heart by saying, “Do not be afraid.” They are words that God has had to speak to so many of his beloved children over the centuries. I’m grateful for many moments when God has been kind enough to speak them to me. Where in your life do you need to hear him say, gently and tenderly, “Do not be afraid?”
One of the reasons we never need to be afraid is found in the angel’s affirmation that “No word from God will ever fail (v. 37).” Ever. If God says something, he means it. Something God says may seem to fail, perhaps even for years, but He will always honor what he says. Period.
A Willing Response to a Puzzling Invitation
In the end, Mary’s final response to this inconceivable word of the Lord through Gabriel is a beautiful one: “I live to serve the Lord. Do what you’ve said.” What a humble and strong response. I want to have a heart like Mary’s in the face of God’s invitations to me.
I think of moments early in my life and ministry when I sensed a profound word of calling Gem and me to a ministry to leaders. Receiving those words at the moment weren’t troubling, but the fact that nothing seemed to come of them for years, even decades, did. Now, in very tangible ways, we are doing together just what God invited us to do so many years ago.
An Invisible Kingdom Without an Ending
The angel declares to Mary that the kingdom of Jesus will have no end. Sometimes, when I look around me, I’m tempted to wonder if it has even begun. I struggle to see evidence of His goodness and His power effectively at work in the world around me. Maybe even in me as well.
What are the apparent impossibilities in my life and work today? What financial, emotional or relational impossibilities tempt me to hopelessness? Are these impossible for God? Not for even a moment.
For Reflection on this Passage:
- How might the power of the Most High overshadow any one of us in such a way as to conceive something powerful and impactful in and through us?
- Are we hearing the word the Lord is speaking that will never fail? Or, are we focused on our own word that inevitably will fail?
- So, when it comes to our own life and leadership, what might Jesus be saying to us?
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