*Sermon text from December 18, 2016
LUKE 1.26-33 NIV
“In the sixth month of Elizabethʼs 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 virginʼs 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 Jacobʼs descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.””
The fullness of the Christmas story is found far beyond the manger scene. We focus a lot of attention on the one moment of Jesus’ nativity, as we should, but His coming is a much wider event. Beyond the boundaries of the birth scene is the moment of the angel’s visit to Mary.
And in that moment, we focus our reflections on Mary’s faith: on her amazing ability to accept God’s will for her life; her faith that God would see her through this seemingly impossible task; and her commitment to raising a child who is the actual Son of God. These are all huge moves that she seems to accept rather quickly. Why?
I think the answer is found in the words of the angel, as he greets her as “you who are highly favored” and reveals afterward that she has “found favor with God.” What did Mary do to be highly favored? How did she find favor with God? I believe the answer to those questions is that Mary was faithful. She wasn’t looking to be highly favored. And I promise she wasn’t raising her hand for the position of virgin-mother who would birth a Divine Son.
You see, Mary found favor with God because she wasn’t looking for it. As far as we know, Mary was a humble, unassuming, faithful Jewish girl. She kept her head down and her life focused. Her business was a life of faithful simplicity. Her response to the angel and the proclamation before her also-pregnant-cousin Elizabeth testifies to that (vv46–55). At the end of the day, we can safely say that this is what God is looking for—a humble faith.
And so the key to the Christian faith is an unassuming life. In other words, humility. God sees in Mary a humble person who will trust God in all things, good or bad, possible or impossible. Her faith reminds me of Job, who chastises his wife as she tells him to simply curse God in the midst of his hardships. He says to her, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2.10 NIV).
We learn from both Job and Mary that favor isn’t something that we must find. The favor of God will find us. It is as if God is attracted to the willing. People who have space in their hearts are people that God can work with. They are free from pride and willing to work with God to see the redemption of trapped souls. But what about the unwilling? There is Good News, still, because what Christ did on the cross can destroy the burden of a proud and unwilling heart.
And so to the willing, God is calling you to His mission of redemption. To the unwilling, God has redeemed you, if you will only lay down your pride and take up the cause of Jesus Christ. Listen to the revelation of the heart of God from Matthew 5, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5.3–10 NIV).
These are the words of One who is both God and man. He speaks with the authority of God and was raised by a woman of God. My hope today is that we may all learn from the example of Mary, to make her legacy of humility and willingness a compass for our lives. If you will seek to be faithful to God, His favor will find you.
As a warning: so many today are seeking the favor of God but they are seeking it on their terms. They believe that they know what they need. The Jews of Jesus’ day believed they knew what they needed. They desired a warrior-king, one who would free them from the clutches of Rome and set them free. But free to do what? Free to do things as you please, as you see fit? No, the real problem is that sin has been telling us all for far too long what we think we need. Jesus has come in order to straighten out our inordinate desires and ideas and to reveal to us what is needed most.
If you have eyes to see and hears to hear, then understand that what we need is a right relationship with God that comes only through Jesus Christ. Mary learned this through raising up the Christ Child, but she learned it best at the foot of the cross, as her Son accomplished the ultimate need of the world—redemption.
All this begs the question, “Am I looking for God’s blessing and favor or am I willing to be blessed by God on His terms?” Let Matthew 5.3–10, the “Blessed are the…” passages, guide you this week. Reflect on them, as the reveal the heart of God, and you will know what it means to be blessed, to find favor with God.