Luke 1:26-38 26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.
31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon 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. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
There are moments in our lives that impact and change us in an instant. We may not know to what extent, but we know in an instant that our lives or at least the way we view life will be totally different going forward. I’m talking about the kind of moments when you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard some riveting news.
How many of you who were living when President Kennedy got shot remember where you were and how you felt when you heard the news? I was five years away from being born when President Kennedy was assassinated, but I did grow up hearing people talk about where they were and what they were doing when it happened. I did a little reading about the event this week. It truly shocked our nation. Television coverage and viewing of the event surpassed newspaper coverage of any previous tragedy. Conspiracy theories sprang up all over the place. People became very suspicious and fearful. Our country moved from general trust to general distrust of the Federal Government. Many people believe that if Kennedy had not been assassinated we would never have gotten involved in the Vietnam War. After President Kennedy’s death no other Presidents would ride in an open car in a parade or public event. Security for the presidents changed dramatically and extended to a lifetime of security which followed the presidents even after they were out of office.
I do remember, of course, when 9/11 happened and where I was when I heard the news. I was pregnant with Josh and had just settled into my work at the church in Cincinnati where we lived. Someone called the church to tell us something had happened in New York. We didn’t have access to TV or news on our phones then. I supposed google existed by then, but no one in our office thought to get online to try to get information. So, we just turned on the radio and the magnitude and meaning of what had just happened didn’t take long to sink in. We had been attacked here at home and no one knew how many people had been killed, how many more attacks were planned, if anyone was safe or when the attacks would be over. It was a time of great confusion and fear.
My first thought was simply of my husband and daughter. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to get to the television. I wanted to call our loved ones. I wanted to pray. I wanted to be around my family to process what was happening. I left work almost immediately that day and Thom and I watched the media coverage all day long. America changed that day. The way we thought about traveling, especially by plane, the way we did security not only in our airports but in many public places, even the size of our government was impacted forever. In many respects, terrorism or the threat of terrorism has become a necessary preoccupation here in our country and around the world ever since. People have become much less trusting of others especially of foreigners.
When there is a sense that something unexpected, something from outside of our scope and control invades our space and has lasting consequences we can have many reactions. It is one thing to hear shocking news about something someone else is going through, but what about when you are the recipient of shocking news about yourself and your immediate circumstances?
Imagine with me for a moment how Mary must have felt when she heard the news about the invasion that would take place in her body and how His coming into the world would change the world forever. How would she process it? Who would she want to tell? Walk with me through her emotions and mindset if you will.
Greatly Troubled-Verse 29 tells us that Mary was greatly troubled at the angel’s words in verse 28. Notice again that it wasn’t the angel’s presence that frightened her, but the angel’s words. It strikes me a little odd that the content of the angel’s greeting created would have troubled her greatly. What the angel had to say seems pleasant enough. She was told that she was highly favored by God and that God was with her. That doesn’t sound too troubling, right? So what was troubling to her? What scared her so terribly?
Mary was highly favored. That was positive, right? The word “favored” just means the recipient of grace. Mary didn’t enter this Christmas story because of her own righteousness or because she was somehow more special than any other teenage girl living in Palestine. She became the mother of Jesus because of an act of God’s grace. Mary’s troubled response was more of a “why me?” response? Mary had a sense of unworthiness. She knew she hadn’t won some competition after giving her best effort. She knew she had done nothing to be highly favored of God.
Mary knew the Scriptures. The hearing of the words, “The Lord is with you” would have taken her mind to times in Scripture when those words were spoken over God’s servants in the past. God appeared to Jacob in Gen. 28:15 to tell him he would be with him in a special way. When God called Moses at that burning bush to lead His people out of Israel and into a new land, God said He would be with Moses (Ex. 3:12). Before heading into battle in the Promised Land, Joshua heard the same words spoken over his life (Josh 1:5). In Judges 6:12 when an angel appeared to Gideon to tell him to defend God’s people from a foreign invasion, the same greeting was spoken to him. The same scenario was repeated with great leaders like King David and with great prophets like Jeremiah. When you heard the words, “The Lord is with you” from an angel or the phrase, “I will be with you” from God Himself, you were being called to an awesome God-sized task. And in all of those scenarios that had played out prior to Mary’s visitation, the destiny of Israel was at stake. The responses of that greeting by the Jacobs and the Moseses of the OT were critical.
And now it was Mary’s turn. She couldn’t have known in that moment, but the future of the Jewish people and literally all of the people of the world was tied now to Mary’s response. How could God have chosen her for some awesome task? Why would He want to? There was a sense that Mary had a hard time accepting that God would include her in His plans. Maybe she was a good Jewish girl. Maybe she had been on her best behavior. Maybe she did stand out from her peers, but to have favor with God, to have the Lord be mindful of her? She was overwhelmed by the thought and the possibility. Her fear wasn’t a fear of God or of the angel’s presence, but her fear was in response to her own perception of herself. What did God’s favor mean? For what had she been chosen? She didn’t even know at this point, but she was troubled by it. Would she be up to the task? What if she failed? What if she wasn’t good enough?
What would the fact that she had found favor with God and that He was with her truly mean? How would her life change? Could it be in that instant that not only her uncertainty about her personal capabilities, but also the fear of change and the fear of the unknown overtook her?
We have all had news given to us at one time or another that caused us to be greatly troubled. We have all known the feelings of anxiety when we have questioned if we are up to the task, if what God is calling us to or what He is allowing us to experience is really a part of His plan, is really in our best interest or is really something we can walk through and still claim victory. We have all questioned from time to time if we were up to the task, if we would be good enough.
A lot of the news we process is mixed with self-doubt. Can we provide for our families the way we think we need to? Can we get through the holidays and keep it together as we deal with our first Christmas without that loved one around our table? Will we be able to finish that degree or prepare well enough for retirement? Will we know how to accept changes in life as we grow older? Can we stay faithful to God in the midst of this increasingly dark culture in which we live? When we don’t have the confidence to answer those questions positively we too can find ourselves troubled. What do we do in those moments? Hold that thought.
Mary had been chosen to play a role in salvation’s history. What an incredible reality for her to have to process as the angel went on to tell her what the mission was going to entail. In verse 30 the angel reassured Mary that this was good news for her life. She didn’t need to be troubled or afraid, and the angel reiterated that she had found favor with God. She would conceive and give birth to Jesus, the Messiah.
Well, Mary went from greatly troubled to Greatly Confused in a hurry. Sometimes things can feel like they are getting worse before they get better, like they are getting cloudier instead of more clear. Hearing the plan didn’t leave Mary without questions. Mary didn’t question the plan, but how the plan would be enacted given the fact that she was a virgin. How would she have this baby? The angel explained how the Holy Spirit would overshadow Mary so that the One born to her would be called the Son of God. What Mary was called to would involve the miracle of God. The only way God’s plans would go forward, the only way Mary would be part of salvation history would be through experiencing the miracle of God.
If I had been Mary I think I would have had more than one question to ask. Are any of you girls with me? I would have wanted a few more details. I would have wanted to know if Joseph was going to stand by me. I would have asked how my family was going to handle the news. I know I would have had more than one question. One of my husband’s frequent expressions when I am anxious about something is simply, “Everything will work out.” I realize it will work out somehow, someway, but I want to know how it will work out, and I like the detailed version! It is a very human question to ask, the “How?” question.
We have limited resources. We have limited vision. We are tied to the natural. Left to ourselves we can’t see “how” anything supernatural could take place, and because of that often we aren’t even looking for a miracle to happen. We aren’t open to the idea of a miracle in our personal situation. Sometimes it is easier to pray for a miracle for someone else and believe for a miracle for someone else than it is to be open to experiencing a miracle ourselves. Mary was open to a miracle! How open are you to a miracle this Advent and Christmas season? How many of you need one? What if the miracle was part of God’s plan to reveal Christ to the world? How many of you would still be up for that kind of miracle?
Once Mary knew God was going to not only be with her, but that He was going to do a miracle in order to use her, she quickly accepted the word of the angel in verse 38. She said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Mary’s human heart started to intertwine with her heart of faith at this point. She who was human would be part of a supernatural plan. She could accept that. She had the faith to stop questioning and to yield to God’s purpose for her. Her mind was no longer on the “why me” and the “how” questions as she simply embraced that God was going to be at work in the natural in supernatural ways.
It doesn’t mean that she no longer had any more anxiety or any more questions. I am sure she did. She was human. But it means that she turned those over to the Sovereign plan of God. How do you get there? In a world where unexpected and shocking and life-altering news can come at any moment, how do you get to the point
where you can turn your anxiety and your questions over to God in order to rest in His peace and participate in His plan? You get there by choosing to be a servant of the Lord regardless of what happens in your life.
Mary’s greatest desire wasn’t that she would get to control the details of her life and have it work out the way she planned. It wasn’t that she understand everything that would happen to her in her life, but it was that she would be the Lord’s servant. Because she could get to the place where whatever happened in her life, however the birth of this son would change her life, whatever it would mean she had to change, to accomodate, to put up with or to persevere through she would serve the Lord. And because Mary had the heart of a servant, she was able to move from greatly troubled and greatly confused to greatly rejoicing. Serving the Lord led her to true rejoicing.
Mary couldn’t wait to share and process the news with someone who would support her. Who better than Elizabeth her cousin to talk to? Elizabeth had been the recipient of an angelic vision as well. And as Mary got ready and hurried to Elizabeth’s house you get the sense that her whole demeanor had changed. Where was the self-doubt? Where was the anxiety? Where were the questions? They had been replaced as priority as serving the plan of God rose to the top. Elizabeth’s confirmation of what was happening in Mary’s life led Mary to burst out into song.
You see, when God gets engaged in our self-doubt and our questions, we are led to a place of victory and rejoicing.
Luke 1:46-55 says 46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”
I love this song of Mary. We still sing it today. We just shorten it and add a “boom chick” beat! It’s called “Look What the Lord Has Done!” Mary knew she was now part of what God had done and was doing in the world!
In Luke 1:46 Mary says her soul glorifies in the Lord. Other translations say, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary’s song, the first Christmas carol, is all about magnifying Jesus as Lord even though He hadn’t even been born yet. Here is the key to dealing with that shocking news, those moments that take your breath away and cause you to question what you know. Here is the secret to dealing with difficult or overwhelming news. Mary’s priority besides serving the Lord was to make His name known to the world. She was committing herself, no matter what, to magnifying the Lord through her life. When we commit to magnifying Christ, it doesn’t matter how we feel about ourselves, our unworthiness or our inabilities. When we commit to magnifying Christ it doesn’t matter how we feel about our circumstances or how many questions we might have about why we are going through what we are going through as we follow God. What matters, what becomes our obsession is that we make Christ known. And when we do we, like Mary, become participants in the salvation plan of God.
Notice that Mary said in her song that her SPIRIT rejoiced in God her Savior. This was an act of true worship! This wasn’t an experience coming from her emotional self, but from her spiritual self. Her rejoicing was the result of a spiritual understanding and spiritual experience with the truth the angel had told her and with the fulfillment of Scripture of which Mary knew she was part. When she sang that phrase about her spirit rejoicing in God her Savior, Mary was saying she knew Jesus was her answer. She knew Jesus was her deliverer. She knew who God was and what He wanted for her life which was her salvation.
That, my friends is true worship! This is the true worship Jesus spoke of in John 4 where He described worship that would be in spirit and in truth! When deep in our spirit, regardless of our anxieties or questions, we choose to worship Jesus for who He is, who He has been revealed to be in Scripture and who He has proven Himself to be through His death, burial and resurrection, and who He has proven Himself to be as He has invaded our lives in supernatural and unexpected ways, out of our souls where we have experienced true transformation we can rejoice in God our Savior!
Oh, when Mary heard the news it was shocking. It shook her to the core. It altered her life. It caused some anxiety. It created some questions, but it led to intense rejoicing as she offered God her life in order that she would live to make Christ known.
What has you greatly troubled today? What confusion and questions are part of your circumstances? Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth (including your stresses and trials) will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. Will you decide with me today that regardless of what you are going through you will serve the Lord and live to make His name great? What better time to magnify Jesus than during the Advent and Christmas season? Will you join me this season in seeking to make the same decisions Mary made when she heard the news?