Summary: Using Mary response to the angel to demonstrate how faith is both what we believe to be true as well as our actions.
Last week we looked at keeping the faith in the midst of disappointments and difficult circumstances, when it seems like God is far away. This past Monday my devotions took me to Psalm 77, which was written by a man, Asaph (one of several music leaders whose job it was to sing before the Lord in the tabernacle (1 Chr. 6:31-33)). It is obvious he was going through a very difficult time. He searched for the Lord and prayed, but still his situation didn’t change. He was so distressed he couldn’t sleep at night and he began to wonder about God, listen to these verses, 7 Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again show me favor? 8 Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? 9 Has God forgotten to be kind? Has he slammed the door on his compassion? This was a man obviously dealing with disappointment and unanswered prayer, God’s seeming failure to act on his behalf, all the things we talked about last week. But then about halfway through the Psalm he shifts gears from focusing on himself and his problems to reflecting on God and remembering what God had done in the past, his miracles, his displays of power, how God had saved his people. It just reinforced for me that when we face disappointments and our faith is challenged, we need to remember God’s mighty work on behalf of his people.
That’s what the Christmas story does for us. It helps us get the attention off of our problems, our disappointments, and refreshes our faith giving us hope as we remember what God has done. God hasn’t forgotten us, he remembers, he hears our prayers, and he will respond in his perfect timing, just as he answered the decades of prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth for a child when they were in their old age. The Christmas story reminds us of God’s amazing love, a love so great he sent his one and only Son to earth, to be just like one of us, to save us from our sins as the angel Gabriel said. No, God has not forgotten us no matter what the circumstances seem like, he is working his perfect plan on his own timetable. We need to keep the faith because faith is what it’s all about.
These two Christmas stories about the angel Gabriel’s visitation to Zechariah and Mary remind us how important faith is to God, that God blesses or rewards those who remain faithful. Zechariah and Elizabeth trusted in faith that God would answer their prayer for a child. Even as the decades went by without an answer, and they grew old, they continued to believe, God finally rewarded and blessed them for their faithfulness with the pregnancy of John. Here in today’s story we can see glimpses of why God’s favor rested upon Mary, even though she was a young lady, perhaps only 13, 14, or 15 she was chosen by God to give birth to and raise the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Why would God choose her among the hundreds and thousands of other potential girls? I believe it was because of her faith. Even though she was poor, and lived in a remote village, God chose her because she demonstrated great faith.
1. Faith Is...
A. Believing that What God Says Will Happen Even Without Having All the Details
Perhaps it would be helpful to ask what is faith first? The Bible defines it for us in the book of Hebrews (NLT):
NRS Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.
We believe even though we do not have all the evidence in. When the angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her she would bear a son, who would be named Jesus (the Lord saves), he would be the Son of the Most High, and receive the throne of his father David and reign over the house of Jacob (Israel) forever, and his kingdom would never end. She had two responses. Her first response was a question, "how will this be, since I am a virgin?" That’s a valid question, the angel is telling her God is going to do something which is physically impossible. First, having a child without having been with Joseph or any other man yet, she was a virgin. And second, having the Son of God. How could a human woman bear God’s Son, a divine being? Impossible. Yet rather than punish her for questioning like he did for Zechariah. Gabriel answered her question. He told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her. I’m a details kind of guy, and there’s not a whole lot of detail here. Gabriel didn’t spell out every detail he told Mary enough to make a decision. Mary’s second response was her step of faith, she said, "I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said." Even though it was physically impossible, Mary believed that what God said would happen even though she didn’t have all the details and wouldn’t see the results for a while.