Today being Mother’s Day, I must say, not because I am one, but I consider it a great honor to celebrate all mothers and women who give life to others.
So in honor of our moms and ladies, we’re going to talk about having a humble spirit that is open to God’s call on our lives. And what better way to speak of this subject than to share the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Let’s start by taking a look at this.
Many great thinkers and leaders would agree that fortune favors those who prepare. From an early age, we are taught the practice of preparedness and that its ties to success. From elementary schools to colleges, messages of success are often portrayed on the walls as soon as you walk in the building that are tied to the benefits of preparedness. Messages like:
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”Benjamin Franklin, a founding Father of the U. S.
“He who is best prepared can best serve in his moment of inspiration.”Samuel Coleridge, theologian
“Fortune favors the prepared mind.”Louis Pasteur, (Pa-store) chemist
“There is no harm in hoping for the best as long as you are prepared for the worst.”Stephen King, author
“Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity.”Earl Nightingale, author
“Make preparations in advance. You never have trouble if you are prepared for it.”Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the U.S.
Preparedness can play a significant role in one’s achievements and these guys knew it. However, living in this thing called life, we know that there are some hardships and experiences that no matter how prepared you are, it’s not enough. There are stories of some of the Biblical greats who can attribute preparedness paired with faith to their successes.
Deborah – a judge who with God’s help prepared and led an entire army to war
Joshua – who with God’s help prepared and led God’s people out of the wilderness and into the Promise Land
Solomon – who with God’s help prepared and built God’s temple and led God’s people
But many in the Bible could not attribute preparedness to success.
Consider the Bible stories you know. No discredit to them, but if there was an award given for unpreparedness at the time of God’s call, who would win the prize? Abraham, Moses, David, Esther? I think it is safe to assume Mary might just take that prize. Ponder this absurd reality for a moment – a pregnant virgin. Truly mind-blowing, right?
When we meet Mary, the mother of Jesus, she is a young Jewish woman, barely matured into marriageable years and newly engaged. At this time, the Jewish people lived in a state of spiritual silence and darkness, called the Dark Ages. Historically, it is the time between the Old Testament and New Testament where God’s communication through prophets came to a miserable halt.
Hebrew instruction was given through the priests’ teachings at the Synagogue, much of which was distorted by the Hebrew teachers and lawmakers of the day – the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Jewish people were desperate for a Savior, desperate for their long-awaited and promised Messiah. Their muddled understanding led them to believe the Messiah would be Jewish “royalty”, from a well-to-do up-standing class, raised in a well-to-do society. No one imagined a Nazarite woman from the lower class to be the mother of The Messiah.
So, why Mary? What made Mary special? Why was she chosen to carry and raise the Light that would shatter the darkness?
When we read or hear the story of the virgin Mary, a sense of detachment sometimes creeps in. Her unfathomable experience and position of honor can steer the strongest of believers to forget her profound humanness. We forget that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was not always Mary, the mother of Jesus. Although we learn of Mary through motherhood, her story stretches beyond motherhood to a life that men and women alike in all stages of life can relate.
Point #1: Mary was unprepared.
As a nation due to COVID, we’ve experienced a lot of unpreparedness in the past year. The history of COVID-19 will be a reminder of the world’s unpreparedness. Overrun hospitals and the lack of medical equipment and supplies, as people stocked up we had empty cleaning and paper product aisles, there were food shortages because people were hording and companies couldn’t keep up with the demand, construction companies and more are still struggling to catch up on the demand, church’s and pastors had to learn and get online in less than a week, the closing of public places and restaurants, the unprecedented job loss, and the millions of children stuck at home due to school closings are all reminders of the pandemic’s swift entry and our lack of preparedness.
Few parents were ready to school their kids at home. For had we known, we would have been prepared. We were as prepared for COVID-19 as the virgin Mary was to carry and raise the Savior of the world.
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.”
38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
Mary was in no position for the circumstances she found herself in. Mary was an unwed virgin from the small town, so small that it wasn’t even on the map, called Nazareth. It was a city where those of lowly origin lived. Mary came from a poor family, a family who likely struggled to make ends meet. When Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her she is favored to bear the Messiah, a natural response would be to second guess, to be troubled by these words, and to seek what it means.
When we read Mary and Gabriel’s story, the conversation would appear to have taken place in less than a minute. But we know there is much left unsaid between the lines. We know there had to have been more to the story, like a possibly long pause to gather her thoughts and try to understand.
What does this mean for my family and for me? No one will accept an unwed mother. My marriage will get called off. How will I raise a child without a husband? Why would God give the Savior to a woman knowing she would have to raise him in shame?
When we find ourselves unprepared for a daunting task or responsibility, a heavy flow of insecurities come, and possible present and future outcomes take hold of our imaginations. At this moment, Mary had two options – she could either choose fear or choose faith – but she could not choose both.
There are some of us in the room today that can really relate to feeling like you don’t have all the answers, like you are unprepared for what life throws at you or even fearful of what may lie ahead. Well, you are in good company. The mother of the Savior of the world found herself in the same place, and yet God was with her.
In times of insecurity, our natural inclination is to seek answers, to understand the why. This is where we imagine the unimaginable. Fear delights in this unpreparedness and misdirects us in our search for answers. It is where conspiracy thinking, irrational outcomes, and foolish solutions become normalized. Unimaginable circumstances draw us to consider unbelievable solutions to combat these uncertain times.
Point #2: Mary was fearful and confused.
As Mary contemplated the angel’s presence, I imagine her face must have said it all. For upon looking at her, Gabriel responded, “Don’t be afraid.”
When we slow this story down to real-time, we see Gabriel reading Mary’s response to his presence. The angel could not know exactly what Mary’s thoughts were or feelher feelings; Gabriel only knew what he was witnessing. And what he saw before him was a young woman who was fearful at his presence.
As they began to converse and Gabriel explained why he was there, Mary couldn’t escape the confusion of how? How was all of this possible?
Mary is not the first woman or person in Scripture to ask this question when God gives what appears to be an impossible calling. Others before her – Abraham, Moses, Gideon, some of the Prophets – all faced the same question: how? How could this be possible?
But Mary, at this moment, made her decision. If she lingered in the how she did not stay long. Our text tells us that with all the uncertainty before her, she chose to live by faith and accept what God was offering, over living in fear and rejecting what God was offering.
When the Lord called me into pastoral ministry, you can bet I questioned and wondered how this could possibly be. On the same day, in the same building, after leading the closing of VBS, two different gentleman, older, one upstairs of the church, one downstairs, didn’t hear each other’s conversations, each told me the same thing almost using the exact same words. “When God calls you into ministry, you need to go.”
Based on the rest of our conversations, I knew what they meant. A string of other events, affirmed this was God’s call, but you can be sure that day, I knew it was God. And I thought, me? Little Trisha Richwine, are you sure?
See my grandfather was a Pentecostal pastor, and I knew what that sacrifice meant. I was always willing and ready with big excitement to do whatever God called me to do, so much that others in my church probably thought I was crazy at times. But when this call came, I put on the breaks! But God didn’t let me do so for long. I had to make a decision. Was I going to let fear take over and reject God’s call or was I going to except what God was offering.
When was a time in your life that you have allowed God to birth something through your willingness to be used by him, even when it seemed impossible?
The only way this happens, and the only way Mary partners with God in this incredible call, is through humble submission to a faithful God. The same is true for us today. If we want to see God use us to do something incredible, we must remain humble and trust in God’s faithfulness.
The next piece we have of Mary’s story is this.
Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”
46 Mary responded, (with a song of praise)“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things? He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”
Just a few days after receiving her big call, Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Maybe to see if it was true about Elizabeth, that she was pregnant too long after her birthing years had passed. Then just maybe what the angel told Mary would be true. And upon Mary’s arrival, Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit of God and also declares that Mary is highly favored.
Point #3: Mary was favored
What did it mean for Mary to be favored? What was it about this particular young woman? Genealogies would tell us that Mary was chosen because of her bloodline, her heritage. She was the right distant relative at the right time. As a woman from the tribe of Judah from David’s line, Mary fit perfectly for the promised Messiah would come from this line. However, Mary was more than the right genealogical cousin at the right time. She was a woman whose heart could handle the joys and sorrows of mothering the Savior of the world. She was a woman who God favored.
In its original Greek context, favored is a derivative from the word grace (charis). Mary was not chosen because she was God’s favorite out of all the Jewish women. Nor was his favor given because of her merit. Like other great men and women of the Bible called to live beyond their abilities, God’s grace was extended to Mary so that she could faithfully carry and raise the fully-human and fully-God child. This grace, this favor on Mary, would be her driving force and a source of strength, for Mary would face many challenges as Jesus’ mother. At times, life would be far from easy.
Had she been able to see into the future, she might have chosen differently. For as Jesus’ mother, Mary would
- Flee from a murderer (Matthew 2:13-15)
- Become a refugee (Matthew 2:13-15)
- Witness her child suffer (John 19)
- Witness her child die the most shameful of deaths (John 19)
- Come to terms with Jesus never marrying and having children
- Face the realization she would outlive her child
- Fear for his life, knowing how his teachings and miracles were upsetting the religious powers of the day (Matthew 12:14)
- Possibly, live in shame because of the nature of his death. (Crucifixion was the lowest form of death. It was reserved for thieves and murderers, and a crucifixion disgraced a family name.)
- Be cared for in her older age by someone who was not her biological family (John 19:26-27)
Yes, Mary was favored to be Jesus’ birth mother. He was to be her greatest joy but also her greatest sorrow. Mary, the favored, was not favored for just the initial term of her pregnancy, but given God’s grace to withstand all that her future would hold.
So here’s some truth to let sink in. The grace of God is on you today as well. You have been chosen by Him to help bring hope into a world that is in need. You may not know what that means right now. In fact, if you did know, you may choose to say “no” to His invitation to trust Him.
You may not feel prepared right now, and that is ok. You may not feel qualified, that is ok because you are favored by God. All God is looking for is someone who will trust Him and humbly see themselves as a servant for the Kingdom of God.
We can learn so much from Mary based upon how she responded to what she knew and witnessed. As Jesus grew and began to assert his independence, Mary did not resist him.
Studying Mary and her response to Jesus, I’m reminded of our boys when they started rejecting our help and saying things like “I can do it. I am ten now. Trust me. I can do it.” Not only do these responses sting a little, but they are a reminder of the changing times. Every time they asserted their independence, my heart told me to hold tighter, but my mind told me to give space.
Now, imagine if as your child grew into his adolescence, you also had to consider what it meant for him as God’s son. We can learn so much from Mary’s responses.
Mary listened and paid attention.
As Gabriel showered her with God’s grace, Mary paid attention and listened closely to what he had to say. When an angel came to Joseph and told him to flee Herod and take refuge in Egypt, Mary graciously humbled herself, left her homeland, and became a refugee on foreign soil for the sake of her son, God’s son (Matthew 2:13-16). As Jesus grew, she paid attention to how others responded to him and his wisdom like when Jesus as 12 years old at the temple, (Luke 2). She leaned into what was happening around her.
Mary was tenderhearted.
When faced with the unknowns, as Mary pressed into her faith and paid attention, Mary’s heart remained tender toward her circumstances. She could have been angry, frustrated, offered up “why me” complaints, or even became immune to God’s work around her and through her. But instead, Mary remained teachable and took notice. She contemplated what God was doing with her son (Luke 2:19).
Mary remembered and treasured what she witnessed in her heart.
(Luke 2:19; 2:51)
She stored up her experiences with Jesus and treasured them in her heart. Pondering them allowed them to penetrate her mind and will(Luke 2:19). As Jesus grew, she paid attention to His words, His responses to what He witnessed, and how He understood the world around Him. As He began to assert His independence, Mary remembered. She made a conscious decision not to forget, but to tuck away the reality that transpired right before her eyes and ears. (Luke 2:51)
Her belief was her most incredible form of worship. Instead of looking for answers, Mary chose to trust and obey. Even in her greatest sorrow and doubt, she made the conscious decision to turn her heart forward and upward.
Mary’s response to life’s unpreparedness and uncertainties is a testimony for all of us here today. This past year with the virus, the political junk, the social mess has been hard, but it doesn’t have to be hopeless. Maybe you have been caught off guard or knocked off of your feet and left wondering, “How do I overcome this? How do I do things well?”
Or maybe God is calling you in ministry to do something that looks impossible. But on this side of the cross, that favor/grace is not given to just certain people at certain times. It is offered for all who believe, freely given to those who trust and obey. We live through this favor and experience it when we lean into what God is doing and hold onto Him for support and guidance.
However, withstanding is more than just saying “I believe”. You can believe and still fall greatly. To withstand, we must pay attention to what God is doing in and around us. We must choose awareness and remain teachable. We’ve got refuse to be stubborn or so fearful that we that we don’t answer, and allow God to lead us because I can tell you, favor does not make life good or perfect.
Instead, favor looks like God’s grace through it all, if only we choose to live in it and through it.
We don’t have to know what the future holds to obey God. We just have to choose to humbly submit.
Just like a mother who takes on many roles as she serves her family and children, in order to handle them all with grace, she, like Mary, must display a humble spirit that is open to God’s call on her life.