Finding Favor

Pastor Kris Ross

On this fourth Sunday of Advent we hear the story of the most powerful woman in Scripture – Mary the mother of Jesus.  Women are pretty much ignored in Scripture, they play bit parts, and many of those parts are not parts that are respected or lifted up.

But Mary, her role was pivotal in the story of Jesus.  And not the average woman’s role.

Mary was a very ordinary Jewish girl in Nazareth, about 14 years old.  These days we would consider her a child.  Certainly not of an age to become pregnant, or to marry.

But in Mary’s time it was very normal for girls of her age to be at least betrothed if not actually married.

I’ve always wondered what Mary was doing when Gabriel appeared.  Was she sweeping a floor? Doing laundry? Cooking? She had to be at least learning these skills in preparation for her marriage.

Picture Mary in a humble house, cleaning dishes after a meal.  Suddenly a blinding light appears and from that light a voice Greetings favored one. The Lord is with you.  What might she be thinking?  Me favored?  I live in small house in Nazareth.  My parents have betrothed me to a man much older than me, but he is kind.  How am I favored? And what are you doing here?

Gabriel goes on to tell her that God favors her and that she will conceive a child and will call him Jesus.  He will be called the son of the Most High. God will give him David’s throne and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever.

Can you imagine what a 14 year old might be thinking at this point?  Wait, WHAT?????  Me?? I’m nobody.  I’m not even married yet, I’m still a virgin.  I’m not a princess or a queen. This CAN’T be happening to me.

Mary knows that in her culture if she were to show up pregnant before her wedding to Joseph, there would be big trouble.  Joseph’s honor and his family’s honor would be damaged.  He had the right to stone her to death for a transgression like this.

She knows that her parents like Joseph and want this marriage to go forward.  She can’t do anything that might endanger it.   What in the world is this angelic being talking about? God favoring her?  How could this be receiving God’s favor?

Gabriel then tells her that the Holy Spirit will come over her and the power of the Most High God will overshadow her, and protect her and because of that the child to come will be holy, called the Son of God. He goes on to say that Elizabeth was also with child, and she was of an advanced age, and because of this people will say that nothing is impossible with God. This is event to come is of God, not man.

This is a huge thing for several reasons.

First of all in Jewish society, women were barely human beings. They had no voice in their lives at all, first being the property of their fathers and then of their husbands.  They could not own property, they had no say in the lives of their children. They could not divorce their husbands but their husbands could send them away for something as paltry as burning dinner. And once sent away they had no recourse anywhere. They were dishonored and could not remarry.  Maybe if they were fortunate their family of origin might take them in, but that was not a sure thing.

So, for Gabriel to come to this young WOMAN and speak to her for God was quite unusual.

Not only does Gabriel come to tell her of this wonder to come, he answers her questions kindly and waits to hear how she will respond.  Does she kick and scream or run away and cry saying, “not me, not me, I don’t want this, it’s too hard?”

What does Gabriel do? He waits for her acquiescence. He waits for her answer.  God almighty, who fashioned the heavens and the earth, who made planets and platypuses, waited patiently for this young girl’s reply.

God did not want Mary to feel that she was simply a body – a vessel –  for bearing a child. God wanted Mary to actively participate in bringing Emmanuel to earth, and to be able to celebrate what God was doing through her.

In this day and age, when women are finding their voices to speak of abuse and harassment, this is HUGE!  Two thousand years ago our God, all mighty and powerful, who could have simply gone ahead with the plan and not said a word to Mary, waits on her consent.

And Mary, sensing God’s love and care in all this says, “Here am I the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.”

In declaring these words, Mary becomes an active part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world.

She becomes the mother of God with Us, Emmanuel.

She brings the Christ child to life.  She says yes to God.

But, do we?

Christian mystic Meister Eckhart said this:

“We are all meant to be mothers of God.  What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself?  And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace, if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to a Son if I do not give birth to him in my time and in my culture? Then then, this is the fullness of time: when the Son of God is begotten in us”

(as quoted by Barbara Brown Taylor, Gospel Medicine)

God isn’t done interrupting people’s lives for the sake of the world. Christ still needs to be born in the world in this time and place.

And you know what? God has noticed us and favors us in the same way that God favored Mary. We just don’t have angels coming to tell us this in the middle of doing the dishes.

Take a minute and think about the fact that the same God who waited on Mary more than two thousand years ago wants to work through each of us as well.  Just sit and think about that for a moment.  The Creator God who gave you fingers and toes, and eyes and skin wants to work through each of you. Wants to create a new heaven and earth – WITH YOU!!

Now take a moment and think a place where we – each of us – can make a difference, where God can work through us.

So say to yourself: I am favored by God.  God wants to do great things through me.

Repeat it. And think again: where can God use you to change the world?