There’s a part of the Christmas story I really had not considered much in the past, perhaps because it’s distanced in time from the events of the Nativity, nine months to be exact. After all, most of us aren’t thinking about Christmas in March. But, as I’ve been contemplating lately, this significant event in the Christmas story teaches us so much about our life and relationship with our Father.
Throughout Church history, the Annunciation is what God’s people have called that moment in time when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, a young, unwed, teenager, and tells her she is going to give birth to the Messiah of the world. Luke 1:26 recounts the story. Mary is at first “greatly troubled” at the news, because she is a virgin and doesn’t understand how she will give birth to a child. The angel tells her not to be afraid; that the Holy Spirit will come over her, and she will, by that Spirit, conceive and bear a son, whose name will be Jesus. How this news leads to anything but more fear and anxiety is itself a miracle, yet Mary humbly submits to the angel’s proclamation, and to God’s plan for her life.
This is an amazing story, and the virgin birth is unique in human history. And yet, as I’ve thought about it, the story of the Annunciation is the story of us all. When God appears to Mary through the angel, he calls her “Most Favored One,” giving her a new name. Likewise, God gives us a new name when He comes into our lives. To have a new name is to be forever changed, made a new creation, with a new identity. Mary’s new identity, “Most Favored One,” is also common to us, His chosen children. When God calls us and gives us a new name, redeeming us through Christ, we become His Most Favored- His beloved, in whom He is well pleased.
It’s also important to remember that God declared Mary “Favored” before she had done anything- she wasn’t yet pregnant, and she had certainly not delivered the baby-King. God simply chose to favor her, not because of what she was or had done, but out of His goodness and love. There’s so much pressure in our culture to be perfect- the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect employee. Social media heightens these expectations, as we consider others’ carefully-curated versions of themselves, and find our own lives coming up short. Yet, God doesn’t require any of those things from us to become His Favored One, His beloved. We simply are, by virtue of our acceptance of Christ’s provision for us, through His goodness and grace.
After naming Mary “favored,” God places the His presence within her. In Mary’s case, it was the actual embryo of the living God, the one who spoke creation into existence, fully fertilized and on His way to becoming the fully-formed God-Man- spectacularly miraculous in and of itself. But, for us, it’s no less miraculous. As His Favored, God places His very self- His Spirit, His identity, nature, and character within us, to live and to grow and become more manifest in our lives, no less God within than in Mary’s case, and in some senses, more fully so.
Mary’s response to this precious gift is stunning. This young girl, hardly more than a child herself, is awed and fearful, yet completely submitting and accepting of what God would do through her, “let it be to me according to your word.” She sings praises to God, and blesses Him for it.
Mary’s way will be a difficult path. In our culture, being a young unwed mother in a small town can make you the subject of gossip and whispers; in first-century Judea, it could get you killed, stoned by the local townsfolk. Spared from death and divorce by a kindly man, everyone still knows her story in the impossibly-small village and region, and when she “makes haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth, John’s mother, in Luke 2, one wonders whether how much of her haste is based upon her excitement, and how much to get out of town and avoid local controversy for a while.
Her life doesn’t get easier from there. Mary and Joseph flee the country when a murderous king threatens her child’s life. She returns in time to give birth in a barn. Throughout her son’s childhood, she lives with the knowledge, and probably pain, that her son is different in ways she doesn’t fully understand. She probably bears the loss of a husband, and the pain of seeing her son ridiculed. I’ve tried to imagine a worse fate for a mother than to be a close-at-hand eyewitness to her child being tortured and killed for something she knows He didn’t do, and I can’t envision anything more horrific or traumatic. And, yet, she endures this terrible day.
Mary’s life was no picnic. In her, every mother, and every parent, throughout the ages can find some commonality, some pain, some tragedy with which to identify. And yet God transforms her, calls her blessed, draws her into intimacy with Himself, and makes her name worthy of praise throughout the ages. She has the honor and privilege of molding and shaping and disciplining the Savior of the World (how’s that for pressure, moms?). This is an impossible task, yet God gives her the grace to do it through her humility and submission to Him. And, three days after holding her dead child’s body, her heart soars perhaps slightly higher than anyone else in human history as she is the first (for the second time) to see Him alive.
And, as with Mary, we experience that God brings beauty from our ashes, meaning from our pain, joy from our trauma and grief, intimacy, and blessing from our hardship. And, He does it the same way, through the same Person, Mary’s son, the God-Man, dead, yet alive.
The Annunciation is a beautiful Christmas story in its own right, made more beautiful when we realize it’s the story of us all.