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Luke 1:26-38

“For nothing is impossible with God”. We had those words printed and taped to our computer during a prolonged season of waiting. We had stepped out of our ministry placement for a year of study and were now heading into the time of needing to know what was next. In the midst of the rising anxiety these words were our reminder of the God who is with us and for us.

This season of pandemics and relational strain (to say the least) calls me to look anew at this promise. “For nothing is impossible with God.” When I receive that into the nooks and crannies of my anxious ways there is a peace that settles over my soul. And yet perhaps these words especially in their context would be better read with some caution, some level of holding our breath as we anticipate the steps of faith that are often necessary when we hear of God’s making a way.

While affirming “nothing is impossible with God” I have to honestly ask myself if I want to be part of “impossible things”. Mary’s yes began a journey that while wondrous and miraculous also demanded more of her than she could ever imagine. We might want to pull back and ask ourselves some advent questions four weeks into this season: Do I want to be called into the impossible? Do I truly want a Christmas visitation? Do I want God to advent (as in arrive in response to my anticipation)?

For me, Christmas holds a desire for some heart-warming elements. Like most people I have traditions that make me feel “Christmasy”. The lighting of advent candles at church, listening to a rendition of The Messiah, playing my favorite Christmas music, some combination of family gatherings, giving and receiving presents. Fairly predictable repeatable patterns that bring great joy. None of these are bad in themselves. But prayers for advent are not parallel to prayers for a Hallmark Christmas. Advent prayers are prayers for disruption. Mary may not have known all of the disruption to come but her song that follows in Luke certainly grasps a good foreshadowing vision.

As we encounter Luke’s beautiful narrative foretelling the birth of Jesus there is nothing traditional, predictable or especially heart-warming about the encounter. Mary is just making the typical life plans of a young girl; she is engaged, she is in close relationships with her family, she is a worshipper who knows something of the voice of God. In the midst of her own plans for life the Angel Gabriel comes with a disrupting announcement. Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you. And she is perplexed. That seems to put it mildly. Perplexed by the appearance of Gabriel and certainly perplexed by such a greeting

I remember when I was pregnant with my first child one of the men in our church loved to greet me with a paraphrase of this greeting. When entered the foyer he would say: Hail Mary, full of grace” To be honest while I was thrilled with being pregnant it wasn’t a season in which I felt especially favored. There had been deaths, illness and losses that swirled my closest friends during that time which challenged my faith and troubled my spirit.

What if you were to hear this greeting today? “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you”. Would you look around to see who this message was intended to address? Mary responded in the same ways that you or I probably would. Perplexed and confused. Who me? favored? Images and paintings of what is called the annunciation often have a romantic glow. I discovered one where Mary has her hands up in surprise and her face looks extremely startled. I think that captures most of our responses when God’s Advent truly hits home.

None of us (or at least most of us) including Mary see ourselves as anything special. We all know too well our limitations, our weaknesses, the “ I am just” language that rings in our heads. “I am just a girl” is in essence Mary’s response along with the disbelief of “how can this be?”. I am sure you can finish that sentence for yourself; I am just ___________, I am just a student, I am just a broken person, I am just a young, old, middle aged person; ultimately, I am just me. In this greeting Mary and we are called to know that we are much more than any “I am just” categories.

We are all favored ones of the Lord. Eugene Peterson points out this same word for favored is used for bestowed or grace poured out in Ephesians; “…to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved”[1] This favor, this bestowing carries an effervescent fullness that is hard to fully grasp. Peterson offers the imagery and language of being “drenched” in grace.[2] While there is a particularity to the favor, the drenching of Grace being poured over Mary’s life, Paul’s use of the same word to describe condition of all Christ followers can help us begin to see the possibilities beyond our perceived limitations.

We are called to know a God who loves us in such a passionate way that he is wanting to bring the fullness of his presence into the very lives we live. This God enters into time and space that we might come to know that love and the outpouring of grace through Christ and receive the good news that we are favored. The fullness of this promise is known when like Mary we can move from perplexed, to pondering to asking questions and wrestling with God to making our lives available to this fire hydrant of grace. This movement is not a linear sequence but rather one we enter into regularly as we continue to grow in Christ. This movement then calls us into a dynamic life with God where we will be called to internal and external adventures of discovering the impossible things God is able to do. For as we allow Christ full sway in our lives the Holy Spirit will come upon us with a power which will overshadow us. “For nothing will be impossible with God.”[3]

Take a moment to note this movement in Mary’s life: God’s Pronouncement (which is for you and me as well) her honest responses: perplexed, pondering, questioning, submitting, and ultimately God’s promise poured out over her on that day and in the days to come. It is a familiar type of sequence which is used in the lives of Moses, Joshua, Abraham, and the prophets echoing the commissioning and calling they received to be the servants of God. The promise of God’s favor, God’s drenching grace is known by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the calling each one us for our particular time and place. Mary’s role was not just to carry and give birth to the Messiah, which is quite profound in and of itself. She needed the ongoing overshadowing of the Holy Spirit to raise the Christ child, walk alongside the Son of God, (while not always fully understanding) all the way to the cross, grieve his devastating death and come to rejoice in his resurrection. She needs the overshadowing presence of God to be a conduit of disruption while also being disrupted in her own assumptions (Luke 8: 19-21).

And it all begins with this greeting that sounds simple but is filled with promise: “Greetings, favored one”. I don’t know the impossible things that God wants to do in and through our lives but I know that they will only happen if we are able with Mary to receive that greeting over every honest perplexing, pondering, questioning and wrestling with God and say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”[4]

So, in the name of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit to the Glory of God I bring you greetings favored ones and pray that God will do impossible things in you, between you and through you in this Advent season and beyond.



[1] Ephesians 1:6 NRSV

[2] Peterson, Eugene H. Practice Resurrection: A conversation on growing up in Christ. Eerdmans Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 2010, p. 62

[3] Luke 1:37 NRSV

[4] Luke 1:38b NRSV