One of the most beautiful of the contemporary Christian songs asks,
“Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God?”
But how could Mary have known what was going to be happening to her when the angel Gabriel came and said to her, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” What does it mean to be highly favored – or even favored – by God? Evidently it does not mean that life is going to be easy. The angel continued, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
When told that she would bear a son, Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Good question. Mary is not married, she is a virgin, and she is going to have a baby. Is this something she should be happy about? Mary and Joseph lived in a strict community that was regulated by strict religious laws and customs. Mary could have been killed. She could have been stoned for becoming pregnant while not married. And imagine Joseph’s hurt. Is she supposed to be happy about Joseph’s hurt? Mary must have thought, God sure has an interesting way of showing His favor.
Years ago a psychologist by the name of Thomas Holmes developed a scale for measuring stress. He assigned numerical values to events that cause stress, such as loss of a job, moving to a new community, and a new relationship. Dr. Holmes even included Christmas on his stress list. According to him, even a so-called “normal Christmas” is worth a hefty 14 stress points.
A writer by the name of Bridget Kuhns took Dr. Holmes’ stress scale and applied it to Mary. Holmes calculated that any pregnancy earns 40 points. For an unwanted pregnancy, add 20 more points. A change in living conditions – Mary stayed three months with Elizabeth – 25 points. Upcoming marriage to Joseph – 50 points. A change in financial status – 38 points.
Surely there must have been some words between them when Mary learned that Joseph had not made reservations at the inn. 35 points for an argument with a spouse. And then the birth – 39 points. 16 points for a change in sleeping habits. 15 points for a change in eating patterns. Not to mention all the uninvited guests – the shepherds and angels and wise men from the east.
Psychologist Thomas Holmes says that people get sick when they reach 200 points on the stress scale. Bridget Kuhns calculated that Mary’s ordeal earned her a whopping 424 stress points. And that does not include the flight to Egypt, or more importantly, the experience of watching her beloved son die as a common criminal on a cross. Is that what it means to be favored by God? Evidently being favored by God does not protect you from high levels of stress.
It is easy to say when things are going our way, “The Lord sure is blessing me.” But have you ever wondered if it is actually when we are going through the most difficult of times – when we feel that we can barely hold on – that God is actually the closest to us? The angel Gabriel, in saying that Mary was blessed by God, was not saying that God would make her life easy. But he was saying that she would be used by God. And in the long run, isn’t that what being blessed is all about?
How about you? Can you say right now that you are blessed because you are being used by God for His special purposes?
In response to Gabriel’s telling her that she was favored by God and that she would bear a son, Mary asked a sensible question, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Good question. The angel responded, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
Is it any more difficult to believe that a virgin could give birth than it is to believe that Zechariah and Elizabeth could bear children in their old age? Mary in her shame could have made up a lie about the visit of an angel. But there was no way that Elizabeth, who was far beyond childbearing years, could make up a story about being pregnant. It was a miracle. And Jesus’ birth was a miracle. Nothing is impossible with God. Remember that the next time you are in a hard place. Nothing is impossible with God.
Be careful whom you called blessed. Be careful what you call impossible. And then, third, be thankful that this young woman said Yes to God.
Mary was free to say No to God, just like we are free to say No to God. God never forces Himself on anyone. But when Gabriel gave Mary the news that she would bear God’s Son, she replied, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” Mary became the mother of our Savior because she was willing to be obedient to God. Obedience is out of fashion in our “I did it my way” world. But obedience is still an important part of the Christian life. Some blessings we will never receive until and unless we are obedient to God.
Mary, did you know? How could have Mary known where her encounter with the angel would lead her? Just as how can we know where our encounter with the living Christ during this Christmas season will lead us?
Be careful whom you call blessed. Be careful what you call impossible. And be thankful that a young, teenage girl said Yes to God. For saying Yes to God is the key to living a life that is truly blessed.
Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE