One of the key persons in the Christmas account in Luke’s Gospel is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Some protestant Christians believe Roman Catholics elevate Mary too high, but my sense is that in response to that Protestants don’t honor her enough. Mary should be highly regarded and is an example for all of us.
In Luke’s account Mary welcomed and accepted the gift of God’s grace. Both the greeting of the angel in Luke 1:28, “Greetings, you highly favored one! The Lord is with you”, and the explanation in verse 30, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God,” contain the root word for grace.
“Favored” and “favor” are essentially the same word as grace in the New Testament. The angel’s words make it clear that God’s favor is on her and that Mary is a recipient of God’s grace. Grace is an extremely important word in Christianity – perhaps the second most important word of all – second perhaps only to love. Grace is God’s unmerited love for us; we don’t do anything to earn, deserve, or merit it. We accept it from him.
Mary welcomed and accepted God’s grace. There is no achievement of hers that is being singled out, not mention of anything she has done to merit God’s favor. The emphasis in Christianity is upon God’s grace and not how we have to earn his love. Grace is about God loving and accepting us without measuring up.
Mary is an example of one who received God’s grace. And as Christians we too are those who have received God’s grace—his unmerited and undeserved love, acceptance, and forgiveness. And since we have received God’s grace, we need to live by grace and show it to others. We don’t live under a system of do’s and don’ts to earn God’s favor. We don’t live the way we live as Christians to be loved and accepted by God, we live the way we do because we have received God’s grace and know he loves us and has accepted us. And because of God’s grace given to us, we appropriately show it to others.
Not only did Mary welcome the gift of God’s grace, she also humbly submitted to God’s call for her to conceive, carry, and give birth to his son, the Messiah, the Savior. Remember, however, that her submission wasn’t immediate. After the angel’s explanation of what God was going to do in Luke 1: 34 Mary asked the angel, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” And that’s an obvious question given her circumstances – she wasn’t married, she was only engaged.
Some say we shouldn’t question God, but Mary did. She asked “How?” One insightful observer notes, “There is a difference between asking God ‘how’ and asking him ‘why’.” Asking how can be helpful. It’s obvious Mary’s question arose from her faith, not doubt. Following Gabriel’s explanation in Luke 1:38 Mary made it clear she would submit declaring, “I am the Lord’s servant.” It’s as though she responds, “Whatever God says, I accept.” We may be so familiar with the account that we miss Mary’s heroism.
I agree with one pastor’s reflection: “Every time I read Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement and explanation, I am awed. Here is a teenager facing misunderstanding and rejection from her family, her betrothed, and her townspeople. And yet she agrees. Mary affirms the bedrock truth that undergirds our discipleship: “I am the Lord’s servant.”
Mary’s response is an example for all us who accepted God’s grace and determined to follow Jesus. We have to decide if we are going to be and do what God calls us to do and be. Sometimes submitting to the Lord is challenging, but in the end it is always worth it. It’s part of our response of welcoming and accepting God’s grace in Jesus.
Let’s note finally, Mary wholeheartedly responded in faith and trusted God’s promises to her. Again, Mary’s question “How can this be?” was not a statement of unbelief, but a request for further information. Other than the appearance of the angel and what was said, Mary had no concrete evidence to believe. But she did have God’s promise from the angel and she believed it.
The heart of Christianity is belief and trust in the promises of God. That’s what Mary had and that’s what you and I need to stand on. Pastor James Kennedy reminds us, “When you and I come to the end our lives and look back over the years God has given us, we will see that everything has been based upon the promises of God.”
Even nature itself bears witness to the truthfulness of God’s promises. The changing of the leaves and the beauty of fall always comes after summer. And the freshness of spring always comes after the cold of winter. The light of morning always comes after the darkness of night. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem we celebrate this week is the fulfillment of one of God’s many promises.
Many of us who grew up going to church probably remember singing that great hymn “Standing on the Promises.” Perhaps we should ask ourselves from time to time, “Am I really trusting and standing on the promises of God?” There is the promise to us who have claimed Jesus as Savior and Lord that God will forgive us. There is God’s promise that he hears our prayers. God does not promise us problem and pain free lives, but in Romans 8:28 Paul tells us, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And in I Corinthians 2:9 Paul reminds us, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him.”
I believe what God has said and trust that he will keep his promises. Do you? Mary believed the angel and trusted that God would he keep his promises. May he help us too have an unshakeable faith in his never failing word.
These thoughts are taken from the second part of the sermon I preached this past Sunday at Washington Avenue Christian Church. If you are interested you can watch the entire service and message at the following link:
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