We’re excited to share a number of Advent Reflections with you in the run up to Christmas this year, from a number of different voices in our church family.
Our hope is that as you take a moment to pause, to read and to reflect, you would experience the hope and anticipation of waiting for Jesus as we remember his first arrival all those years ago in Bethlehem, and live in expectation of his glorious return.
Emmanuel, God With Us
The story of the birth of Jesus begins with an angelic encounter where Gabriel prophesies the coming of Christ. The angel says to Mary “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” In the Passion Translation Gabriel goes on to say: “The Lord has found delight in you and has chosen to surprise you with a wonderful gift. You will become pregnant with a baby boy, and you are to name him Jesus. He will be supreme and will be known as the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God will enthrone him as King on his ancestor David’s throne. He will reign as King of Israel forever, and his reign will have no limit.”
Upon hearing this Mary goes to her cousin, Elizabeth’s house. As soon as Mary enters the house and before she even has a chance to tell Elizabeth what has happened Elizabeth is overcome by the Holy Spirit and begins to cry out in a loud voice:
“Mary! You are a woman given the highest favour
and privilege above all others.
For your child is destined to bring God great delight.
How did I deserve such a remarkable honour
to have the mother of my Lord come and visit me?
The moment you came in the door and greeted me,
my baby danced inside me with ecstatic joy!
Great favour is upon you, for you have believed
every word spoken to you from the Lord.”
Mary herself then breaks into a prophetic song even at one point declaring “From here on, everyone will know that I have been blessed and favoured”
If you put yourself in Mary’s position, with all this prophecy, singing and angelic assurance of blessing, delight, honour, privilege and favour, how would you imagine the next few years of your life were going to play out? For me, I think I would definitely be thinking along the lines of some aspirational housing, riches- yes, beauty- yes, a little bit of fame, or at least it’s more spiritual counterpart, influence and definitely a few million instagram followers so I could take and share lots of pictures of my perfect life. #blessed #andhighlyfavoured.
I very much doubt I would be thinking along the lines of my nice engagement being at risk, traveling 65 miles on a donkey while I was heavily pregnant and then God not even arranging a hotel room for me at the other end. I mean he’s all powerful how hard could it be? Giving birth in a grotty barn – no, putting my supreme baby the “son of the Highest” in a feeding trough – also no, having people come to visit with animals – definitely not, having wise men carrying expensive gifts come and sing songs of praises to my son – ok that actually sounds alright- but the rest is not in the plan.
What about having a jealous king make a decree to kill all the infant boys in the kingdom and having to flee for years to avoid a murderous rampage or seeing your son grow up and die on a cross in shame and agony? If I was Mary at some point I definitely would start to think Gabriel had got it wrong … or maybe I didn’t even see Gabriel maybe I imagined it because this cannot be what blessed and highly favoured looks like right?
So how exactly was Mary blessed? Definitely not in any way we conventionally think about blessing these days. We view the Christmas story with mulled wine tinted glasses because we don’t really see the circumstances. When we see the Christmas story what we see is Jesus. Christ our saviour, born of Mary. She was the Mother of God she experienced Emmanuel God with us in the most profound and intimate way imaginable. She was, without doubt and in spite of circumstances blessed and highly favoured. We know this is true. But do we apply it to ourselves?
2020 has definitely been a year of circumstances hasn’t it? This time last year, did you ever imagine you would say the words “unprecedented times” so much? People have been through an awful lot this year. There have been those who have lost loved ones, lost jobs, businesses gone under, mental health at breaking point and beyond, frustration, loneliness, sickness and relationship breakdown, holidays, weddings, birthdays have been missed or put on hold.
Others have had wonderful things happen: New babies, new jobs, engagements and have thrived with more time together as a family but haven’t been able to share their joy with people in the same way they wanted to. But in the distancing and in the slowing of lockdown and the letting go of everything that usually keeps us so busy there has been an invitation to us all. I know I am not the only one who feels it. The invitation is to surrender what was, and reprioritise, and find that God is with us, and that we are blessed however our circumstances appear.
My prayer for all of us this advent and into 2021 is not that God would change your circumstances but something much greater .. that you would be blessed and highly favoured and you would experience Emmanuel God with you.
The only true blessing that cannot be taken away… even in these unprecedented times.