Summary: When approached by the angel of the Lord, Mary did not fear the promise of God. Do we fear God's promises?
Don’t Fear the Promise
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.”
How many times in our lives do we make promises and later fail to deliver on them. Sadly, in my own life, I have made promises to my wife and kids and then had to come back to either revise or rescind my words because of one excuse or another. In fact, I believe that most of us here have broken a promise or two to those we love, to ourselves, and to God. But what happens when we receive a promise that scares us, or in the very least, confuses us. Today, this fourth Sunday of the Advent season, we have lit the “angel’s candle,” the candle which reminds us of the angels, who serve a King that lives and rules forever and whose very birth offers us the promise of great things, most especially the means to overcome. This morning, we are going to focus on Mary’s story. In it we will find a message of peace and promise of what Christ brings to mankind. But what did that message mean to Mary when she first heard it?
Travel back with me to a more austere time. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine considering where we are now. For those who’ve had the opportunity to travel in rural Iraq and here in Afghanistan, you are quite aware of the simplicity of life. Earthen homes warmed by wood or dried manure logs. One or two rooms where the family and livestock share the warmth and pallets are laid out for bedding. Most live through agricultural means drawn from the barren ground, gathering foods from the surrounding hills, or through small business adventures. Not at all like the vast American suburban landscape of excess, a fast food chain on every corner, and massive homes lit up year round.
No, it would be into this austere environment into which the greatest promise ever made would come forth, in Israel, to a young virgin girl named Mary. The Scriptures read again: ““In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."
Have you ever been scared before? I mean really, really scared. I can honestly say that there have been less than a handful of times where something happened in which I was scared and to be honest with you, the appearance of an angel in my midst would probably constitute one of those times, if it were to ever happen. But notice something about Mary…she wasn’t scared one bit. In every translation I have read, the word used for her reaction never emotes fear at all. It’s always perplexed, confused, troubled, etc., but no fear. Here is what the NIV says continuing on: “But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Notice that it wasn’t the angel’s appearance that perplexed her; it was what he said about being favored. Twice he used that term. It means ‘graceful or that which brings joy.’