When is the last time you were deeply, mindlessly, overwhelmingly afraid? Not just a little frightened, like when a mouse darts across the floor, or a cockroach hands you the sugar packet when you open the cabinet, or your teenager asks for the car keys, but truly afraid?
Facing a life crisis such as a car accident, eviction, the sudden death of a spouse, a gun pointing at you, surgery….these moments can usher you right into cold, hard fear. Your body takes over and adrenaline pumps so hard through your system you that can’t breathe or even think straight.
Have you ever noticed that just about every time an angel appears in the scriptures, one of the first things they say is “do not be afraid,” and for good reason. The sudden appearance of a fiery, hovering, light-beams-for-eyes creature would be terrifying. That is often the response they received…even Mary was greatly troubled.
Luke 1. (English Standard Version)
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
Do not be afraid of what is about to be asked of you.
Do not be afraid of this journey I am sending you on.
Do not be afraid of leaving your home and your family.
Do not be afraid to do God’s bidding.
Just go, and do not be afraid.
31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
What is God asking you to do right now that has you fearful? Is he calling you to go somewhere, leave your comfort zone, start or end something, let go of habits that are dragging you down, end a toxic relationship, or in some way do his terrifying bidding?
Do not be afraid. You, too, have found favor with God. He will be with you wherever you go.
My appreciation for Mary grows every Christmas. Imagine an unwed teenager willingly giving birth to the Son of God…it is nothing short of incredible. Granted, once the miraculous conception occurred she had little choice but to go through with it, but still….
It is Mary’s attitude that I most admire. Her sense of servanthood was extraordinary. Mary’s ability to accept what God asked her to do is well beyond anything that any of us has been tasked with as followers. Think about the hardest thing you have ever had to endure. Scandal? Mary was immersed in one. Rejection? Mary experienced that. Financial insecurity? Covered. Homelessness? Did that, got the I Went to Bethlehem And All I Got Was this Lousy T-Shirt to show for it.
Lose a child? Again, yes.
But let’s go back to a happier moment. In Luke 1, we see Mary’s response to the news that she was going to bear the Son of God. Here is her response, known as The Magnificat:
Luke 1 ( New Revised Standard Version)
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
The essence of pure joy that flows from these words is something we should bottle up so we can dab it on our wrists in frantic moments. If only we could distill this rejoicing! We could breathe it in when we receive startling, life-changing, impossible-to-accept news.
Mary continues her song, expounding on the glory of God. Her words show a deep and intimate knowledge of who God is. This tells us that Mary was a woman of the word before she became the mother of the Word.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
In Mary’s mind, this news is an answer to Israel’s prayer. Many of her kin would not receive it with the same joy, but Mary knew.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
As we meditate on her response today, think about your own relationship with God. Do you know him as well as Mary did? Can you recount his marvelous deeds in your life? Are you willing to lay down your future to be obedient to whatever he calls you to do?
In a world full of Housewives, self-centered leaders, and shallow people, be a Mary.
Have you ever had something happen that was so profound that it rendered you speechless? Like, literally not able to make words or even syllables come out of your mouth? Yeah, me neither. But we do know that it can happen to some people when a unexpected surprise comes along suddenly and without warning.
Zachariah experienced speechlessness. Not just for a moment, but for many, many months. He received the unexpected news from an angel that he and his wife (both “long in tooth and older than the hills”) were expecting a baby. Elizabeth had waited all of her life for a child, but was barren through her child-bearing years. Now, in her geriatric phase, she was suddenly pregnant. What the heck? The news was so startling, it took her breath, and Zachariah’s voice, away:
Luke 1 (The Message)
18 Zachariah said to the angel, “Do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman.”
19-20 But the angel said, “I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time—God’s time.”
AHA! So it was the angel who took Zachariah’s voice away! Seems a little harsh, no? In the presence of an angel, in the moment of an unbelievable proclamation, the aged priest expressed his incredulity. That seems fair and reasonable, doesn’t it?
In Matthew Henry’s commentary, he explains it simply: “His unbelief was silenced.” That simple statement helps us to see it a different way. Zachariah was a man of influence, a temple priest. Were he to use his pulpit to brag, embellish, or publicly express doubt about the whole thing, the truth of Elizabeth’s pregnancy would always remain in question. As we know, pulpit-holders are held to a higher accountability:
Titus 1(The Message)
5-9 Appoint leaders in every town according to my instructions. As you select them, ask, “Is this man well-thought-of? Is he committed to his wife? Are his children believers? Do they respect him and stay out of trouble?” It’s important that a church leader, responsible for the affairs in God’s house, be looked up to—not pushy, not short-tempered, not a drunk, not a bully, not money-hungry.
He must welcome people, be helpful, wise, fair, reverent, have a good grip on himself, and have a good grip on the Message, knowing how to use the truth to either spur people on in knowledge or stop them in their tracks if they oppose it.
And in fact, Zachariah’s speech was not returned to him until he wrote on a tablet, “His name is John,” as the angel had instructed him to do. With this sentence he confirmed the truth of John’s miraculous conception and affirmed John’s place in the story as the one who came to prepare the way for the Messiah, who was also miraculously conceived.
Maybe you woke up this morning and had second thoughts about something. Perhaps a moment of unbelief has come upon you in a difficult situation. You may be having doubts about God’s presence in your mess. God won’t render you speechless, but he most certainly will come to you in the quietness of your contemplation in a “Be still, and know that I am God” moment.
Know today that you are in good company. All of us, at one time or another, question God’s activity and wonder what the heck is going on. We retreat into the silence of our own thoughts, seeking out the spirit and finding him there.
In times like these, it is good to remember the miracles of Christmas. Each one had to be waited for, and each came in their own time…God’s time. So in your doubt, remember to look up, look out, and look for a sign. God is here, Emmanuel, and he came to save. You can count on it.
From a historical perspective, a lady-in-waiting was a noblewoman of lower rank who attended a noblewoman of higher rank, such as a queen or princess. Her work centered on ensuring that the personal needs of her mistress were taken care of. More courtier or companion than servant, ladies-in-waiting provided assistance with secretarial needs, etiquette, practicing court dances, embroidery, wardrobe care, and delivering messages on behalf of their mistress in a discreet fashion. They wait in both contexts of that word: they wait on their mistress, and they sit and wait for their mistress to send for them.
I need a lady-in-waiting! Where can I get one?
Every woman I know has been a lady-in-waiting at some point in her life. Not in the context of court duties, but in the sense of having to wait for something. When we are engaged, we are waiting for the wedding to happen. When we’re pregnant, we wait for childbirth. We wait to hear if we’ve been accepted into college and grad school. We spend time sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for test results, and outside the interview room, waiting to see if we got the job. When hospice is brought in, we wait for our loved one to pass from this life to the next.
And then there is type of waiting that all people experience every day…waiting in line, waiting for phone calls, waiting at red lights, waiting for an apology, waiting for a house to sell, waiting for Christmas/vacation/birthdays/retirement to come…wait, wait, wait.
I hate waiting. How about you?
Luke 1 (The Message)
5-7During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.
Elizabeth waited all her life to have a child. She did all the right things, lived a righteous life, and yet was still waiting into her old age. And then the unthinkable happened. An angel visited her husband Zachariah with some startling news:
13-15 But the angel reassured him, “Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You’re going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. He’ll achieve great stature with God.
And leap like a gazelle they did! Then another kind of waiting began. Meanwhile, in another part of Israel, Elizabeth’s cousin Mary was also having a conversation with an angel, who brought her some startling news as well. And then he concludes with telling her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy:
36-38 “And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”
Waiters, take heed. NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD.
The thing you are waiting for will come to be, in God’s time. And if it doesn’t, it wasn’t going to be good for you. When I was five, I prayed for a pony. Still waiting.
God always works for the good of those who love him and who are called to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) So while waiting is tedious, stressful, and downright aggravating, we can acknowledge that God is present, even in the waiting.
One thing I noticed about how Elizabeth spent her waiting time was that she and Zachariah were said to “enjoy a clear conscience before God.” That tells me that they understood the value of repentance, which ironically was what their son John would spend his lifetime preaching about. Clear consciences come when we attend to God’s commandments and live honorable lives.
As you wait, consider this. How is your conscience? Is it clear? Are you harboring any grudges, withholding any offerings from God, or practicing things that would separate yourself from him? Are you ignoring God’s call to go and make amends with someone before you return to the altar?
Repentance is the great conscience-cleanser. When we turn away from sin and return to God, the angels rejoice and our load becomes lighter.
As you wait, remember Mary and Elizabeth. They waited, and waited, and waited. Then, in the fullness of time, they birthed joy, hope, salvation, and redemption for the world. What will God bring forth from your waiting?
Our mothers told us that good things come to those who wait. May you experience patience in the waiting, hope for the future, redemption in the now, and a new understanding that NOTHING is impossible with God.