The second Sunday of Advent turns to examine Mary’s faith and how believers can learn from her choices.
Malachi’s an odd little book, only four chapters long and at the tail end of the Old Testament. It’s not much fun to read, to be quite honest. There’s lots of rebelling, judgment and general unhappiness.
However, the last lines of the last chapter say, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Malachi 4:5-6 ESV).
In Matthew 11, Jesus says that Malachi refers to John the Baptist, the messenger who prepares the way for the Lord.
God promises Israel that one of her greatest prophets will appear, heralding the coming of the Messiah, which will precede a great time of healing for people. That’s a fantastic message to get from the Lord.
Then God was silent for over 400 years.
He gave Israel an incredible promise of salvation, then the Persians took over Judah, followed by Alexander the Great. His heirs oppressed the Jews terribly, and then the Romans took over.
What happened to the healing, the “awesome day of the Lord” and all that jazz? Didn’t God know how excruciating this wait would be for all the people who would live and die before Jesus came? Four hundred plus years is a long time to hold on to a promise when everything you see flies in the face of what you’re hoping will be true…one day.
In the face of this baffling act, we find ourselves at the second Sunday of Advent. Here we remember Mary and, more importantly, faith in the face of huge obstacles and the world’s overwhelming evidence that God’s word will never become reality.
Another Look at the Beginning
Luke’s opening is arguably the most popular at Christmas time.
An angel shows up at Mary’s house and says the lines so familiar to every Christmas Bible skit and movie: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name 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 father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33 ESV).
In his sermon on this passage, Gary Wilkerson notes that Mary’s reaction to this extraordinary greeting is quite unusual.
Unlike many biblical figures, this young woman doesn’t fall down with terror at the sight of the angel, but neither is she overcome with awe or delight. Instead, we’re simply told that “she was greatly troubled” (Luke 1:29).
Gary digs into some of the reasons why she might have responded this way: “Mary had to be confused by the message spoken to her from heaven: ‘You have God’s favor.’ Nothing in her life reflected favor of any kind. In reality, a transformation was on the cusp of taking place in her own life and throughout the world, but it was hard for Mary to imagine any of it.
“A lot of us are like Mary. We’d like to see our circumstances transformed. We want to see our sick relative healed of his disease. We want our troubled child to find purpose in Christ. We want our tense marriage to be restored to its former joy.
“We’d also like to see a different spiritual reality in the world around us. In cities across our nation, there is more brokenness than you’d ever expect to find: drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, homeless people, street kids, porn addiction, broken homes. The problems are overwhelming, and the outreaches we dedicate to these problems barely scratch the surface.”
In the face of all of this, Gary muses, “I think it’s hard for most Christians to grasp a sense of God’s favor. We’re more comfortable with our obligations to him. But if we heard these words from heaven—'You are my favored one’—most of us wouldn’t know how to handle it. All we can see are our weaknesses, our stressful circumstances, our trying situation.”
Mary’s reaction, though, doesn’t negate her faith in God’s plan or goodness. If anything, it confirms that she trusted God to handle her uneasiness. He would have an answer.
Faith Grows Best in Family
Mary’s story still has more to show us about the nature of faith. As many sermons have pointed out, becoming pregnant outside of wedlock could be a literal death-sentence for a young Jewish girl at that time.
Mary’s question, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” had a practical, biological element to it, but between the lines lies perhaps another question altogether.
“Surely you know what they’re going to do to me, a pregnant virgin, right?”
In a particularly gentle way, Gabriel answers both questions. The Holy Spirit would see to the conceiving bit; God wasn’t asking Mary to do anything immoral here. The angel then directs her to her relative Elizabeth who will give birth to John the Baptist but more importantly is older, wise in the ways of the Bible (being a priest’s wife) and respected in the community.
Why? Probably because God knew Mary would need encouragement from someone she could trust to know the Bible well and who could also be her advocate.
Faith may start inside us, but it very rarely continues in isolation.
Filled with the Spirit, Elizabeth tells Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45). This confirmation of God’s commands from a godly, older woman must’ve been a huge relief to Mary’s troubled heart.
Better yet, Elizabeth and her baby were living reminders to Mary that God is not restrained by anything that limits people.
Declaring Our Trust in God’s Will
Mary confirms her faith that God would not only keep her alive but also do something with her life to glorify himself in her song, often called The Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:46-49).
Nothing about her situation had changed yet.
She was still an unwed, pregnant girl, no doubt with lots of skeptical, angry relatives who were questioning her story. She would still have to live for decades under the shadow of people questioning her faithfulness to Joseph, pointing to how Jesus was born out of wedlock.
Still, she experienced a very unique blessing as a result of trusting God. No one was able to spend as much time with Jesus than her, and that must’ve been wonderful.
When we put our faith in God and declare it as a testimony to others, even in the face of scary consequences, we experience a unique closeness to our Savior.