I want to focus on the text of Luke 1:26-28, which says, “26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’”
Think of the expression of favor that is given to Mary here. There are times of life where things don’t go in your favor. I think of the board game Monopoly. You land on the spot for “luxury tax” and you have to pay $75. You are assessed for street repairs and you have to pay $40 for each house and $115 for each hotel. Or you land on Boardwalk and someone else has built a hotel on it and you have to fork over $2,000.
But of course it can go the other way. You land on Chance and there’s a bank error in your favor and you collect $200. Or someone wins second prize in a beauty contest and they collect $10 (and usually everyone looks at this player and wonders how that could’ve happened). Or you advance to go and you collect $200 more. And on it goes.
Life has this element of chance. Ecclesiastes 9:11 says that time and chance happen to all of us. There are other times where you feel less-favored and there are times when you feel more-favored.
And yet life is not just merely just a matter of luck. Just as we view the cross of Jesus through the lens of the resurrection, so life can make more sense when it’s viewed through the lens of God’s providence.
But we have to be careful with this. I found a resonant quote from the Lutheran theologian Martin Marty several years ago. He said this: “I find the most offensive kind of prayer when 250 Marines get killed... and four survive, and their families go on television and say, 'We really prayed, so they were spared.' That's an unbiblical game. It's magic; it's superstition. I like the matter-of-factness of Jesus when asked about the man born blind, and Jesus says, 'Did he sin or his parents? you ask. He was just born blind.' Things just happen. It rains on the just and the unjust alike."
If life is like Monopoly in that sense, this part of the annunciation narrative invites us to reconsider what divine favor looks like. Think of it in light of Mary’s larger experiences and the details of the text.
Or on the other hand, maybe she was at peace because this promise became the lens through which she viewed her life experience. If you see your life through the lens of God’s promises, your heart will be less troubled. The circumstances won’t disturb you so much because you’ll know that God is bigger than they are. This was why Paul was able to say in Philippians 4: Be anxious for nothing. Let your requests be made known to God. The peace that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Our worries fade when we trust God and hold to the promises that somehow He will make these troubled times work out for His kingdom good in the end.
And the key thing to remember is this: Favor from God is often attached to experiences of hardship. God spoke to Paul in one of his experiences of distress (in II Corinthians 12:9. We don’t know exactly what it was, but we know that God said this): “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (my emphasis).
That’s the key. And there’s a corollary: the significance of this favor doesn’t end with us. (This is why it’s troubling for us sometimes. When we want/expect better things for ourselves than what we’re experiencing – and we don’t see them through the lens of this kind of favor – that’s when we can end up being disappointed.) But things don’t have to be this way because it’s not all about us. The significance of God’s favor is His larger will and glory – not always our personal well-being.
Plus, the main thing that could be reassuring for Mary was the fact that she was not alone. The angelic voice assured her: God is present. And we can take that to heart today as well. We probably won’t hear it from an angel in the way that Mary did, but it’s true nonetheless.
In fact, I believe that angels are all around us. Normally we can’t see them, but they are present. And God uses them for things that most often we aren’t even aware of.
I mentioned in my sermon last Sunday my phone conversation with Bob Curtis. And I mentioned that as we recounted our experiences of the fire, Bob said, “These are times when people will complain. But there’s no reason to complain. God can fix anything.”
I like that disposition. It’s all about putting on the right kind of lenses. Perhaps the way to start by asking this question: How might God use these experiences for my own benefit? An honest pondering of that question can lead to an alternative to complaining that Bob was talking about.
This is not to imply that some kind of lament totally out of order. There is a book of Lamentations in the Bible – and it’s in there for a reason. But it’s only one book out of many, and it’s not a very long book. It needs to be taken in context.
Lamenting has its place, but keep in mind that context. We’re not alone. God is with us. Christ is present. There are angels in our midst. The church continues; the gates of hell will not prevail against us. And God’s favor abounds. In some unseen/unknown way, God is working in our favor.
I am a husband, a Congregational pastor, and a native Kansan currently living in Thermalito, California. In the past I have also been a prison chaplain and a youth pastor. Interests include reading, railroads, prog rock, KU, and the KC Royals. Opinions are my own and are not necessarily those of organizations I have been with.