“What Kind of a Greeting this might be?”
It must be said straight away that Mary is no dummy. She knows a greeting that has a certain edge to it when she hears it.
“Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you.”
“What kind of a greeting might this be?” she wonders, perplexed at it.
I recently traded in my vehicle, and I can tell you that there is a marked difference from the kind of greeting one gets when one goes in to purchase a car, and the kind of greeting one gets when one has to go back to the same dealership to let them know that there is something wrong with the car just purchased.
The first greeting is all, “Hey, Merle is it? Good to meet you, how can we help you today? What do I have to do to get you into this car, help you make this decision?”
The second greeting when you go back is much more reserved and tentative, “Oh? Well, I’m sorry, what was your name again? Let me see if I can find you a manager….”
If Mary is perplexed by the greeting, it might just be that she is detecting the hint of a “sales job” in the voice of Gabriel the messenger.
Just what kind of “favored” are we talking about here?
We soon discover that as the message is delivered. Gabriel tells Mary that in her small village where everyone knows everyone else’s business, she will conceive, bear a son, and name him not after the father as would be usual… not after Joseph, but will instead name him Jesus, Yeshua, — “God Saves.”
So far having “favored status” with God includes having to endure teen pregnancy in a small town, getting no big gender reveal (as is fashionable these days,) and not even having naming rights to the child.
I’m feeling “favored” right about now, how about you?
If the third week of Advent gives us a break and focuses us on Joy, then Advent four plunges us right back into the realm of expectation and gritty reality.
This has (in fact) long been a theme in Israel’s history. To be favored, chosen, would bring with it blessing yes, — but it also carried with it a heavy dose of expectation and personal cost.
God had chosen Abram to receive blessing, but that entailed Abram leaving his home and everything behind and sojourning to a new land.
God had chosen Moses to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt, but that entailed Moses going toe-to-toe with the Pharaoh and 40 years of wandering in the wilderness with a complaining people.
God had chosen Joshua (Yeshua) to lead the people into the promised land, but that would entail conquering an already occupied land and contending with difficult neighbors.
God had chosen a whole slew of Judges and Prophets whose call stories would reveal how it is that God raises up leaders and spokespersons, favoring them with the skills or words needed for their time and their circumstances, but also asking much of them in return as they accomplished God’s intended purpose.
I’ve got to tell you, when you pull these stories apart and look at the implications of being “favored” by God, it’s not all picnics and roses.
No, Mary is no dummy!
If God comes at you with a message that says you have found favor with God? There is almost always sure to be another shoe to drop.
Mary seems to sense right away that being “favored” is going to mean something difficult will be asked of her, for no good thing worth doing ever comes about without sacrifice, or effort, or some amount of personal cost.
Being “favored” by God is going to be a major disruption to your life!
I’m not sure we keep that as firmly in mind as we should when we consider our own faith journey, our own experience of hearing from God’s messengers.
Favor is conferred upon Mary. She is called to become the “God bearer” to this world, the “Theotokos” as the Greek phrases it, with all that will end up costing her personally.
God’s favor is indeed also conferred upon us, and we are (in a sense) also called to be “Theotokos” in a way – “God bearers” to this world.
We do not bear the Christ child in a womb, as Mary did.
No, we bear the presence of God in our words, in our actions, and in our decisions.
We bear the presence of God to this world in the ways that we care for our neighbors and care about one another.
We bear the presence of God in this world in the advocacy that we do on behalf of those who have no voice, and in the ways that we choose to work and to live.
So, “Hail, oh favored one, the Lord is with you.” — this day!
Prepare to be a little perplexed, (as Mary was,) at such a greeting when it comes your way, because (like Mary) you might just be sensing a bit of a “sales job” that is about to follow!
God has to convince you that the things that Jesus will come to say, the actions that Jesus will do, the teachings that Jesus will put forth are all better ways of doing things than the current world’s patterns.
“Hail, O favored one!”
It will not seem natural.
It will feel like a departure from the way this world expects things to work. Following Jesus and what he calls us to do will not come without cost.
“Hail, oh favored one….”
Being “favored” by God is going to be a major disruption to your life!
But, in addition to being favored and there being a cost, there is also this promise.
“The Lord is with you!”
I’m not sure we fully grasp that either, because an awful lot of the time we feel kind of left out there on our own, particularly when we are trying to be faithful! Trying to do “God bearing” work in this world.
This too, is a pattern in the scriptures.
Jesus says to his disciples when they are confronted with a hungry crowd, “you give them something to eat!”
“A year’s wages would not buy enough bread to give each one a morsel!” one disciple complains, and another pipes up “all we have are five loaves and two fish, but what are they among so many?”
It is never enough at first glance, nor does the action make any sense on the surface.
But broken and blessed, handed over to Jesus, those five loaves and two fish become favored and it feeds and it fills and left overs are gathered up!
It never seems to stop, the need, the crowds looking to the favored ones for signs.
It never seems to slow down, the people coming with needs, looking to you for action, to do something, or for some relief.
The crowds follow looking for bread.
Looking for healing.
Looking for a sign.
This too, is a part of being “favored” it seems.
A warning old Simeon will speak in a week here, a reminder to Mary that a “sword will piece your own soul as well.”
Caring and answering the call to be favored by God will bring you heartache.
Nevertheless, God will be with you.
God will be with you through it all, and in it all, and God will sustain, and God will provide. This is perhaps the hardest lesson for those who find favor with God to cling to and to hold on to.
This is the lesson that runs most contrary to the way that this world thinks and works.
This is the dividing line between trusting, and being realistic, which is another reason why I really like Mary in this story.
It is not that she is wide eyed or naïve, going into this with no idea what it will all mean, what it is that it may cost her.
She goes into this with her eyes wide open, perplexed at the greeting and skeptical, to be sure, sensing the “sales job” but ready to listen and take in what being “favored” might mean.
It is not perplexing to be approached by a celestial being it seems, but what is perplexing is the greeting itself, and the idea that she of all people would be favored by God.
She, of all people would be singled out by God as having a part in God’s ongoing work in redeeming this world.
Maybe that is our surprise as well.
We do not doubt that God can do great things! That we are sure of! We have seen it happen time and again in the lives of others.
We do not find it difficult to believe that God would provide, that God could provide, or that God could cause meager resources to stretch beyond belief. We have seen that too in the stories told throughout history, and recounted around us as the experience of others.
It is not hard for us to imagine God calling and favoring someone to do great things. God has done that in the past and will do it into the future until history is brought to a final chapter.
No, we are just perplexed that such favor might indeed come to us!
We are perplexed that we, that I might be the one favored by God — called upon to bear God to this corner of the world, our own corner of the world.
We are perplexed when we think that maybe God would be calling us to bear God to this place with the things that we have in our hands, and nothing really to lean back on but the sheer promise that God will be with us in the midst of it.
Mary is no dummy.
She senses the sales job in Gabriel’s words!
The miracle in the story is that even sensing the sales job and being perplexed that this comes to her, she responds, “Let is be with me according to your word.”
She accepts God’s favoring.
Would that we might have such a response as well to God’s favor when it comes to us!
Would that we, perplexed as we might be that God would choose to use us, use me, to be “God bearers” to this world, — we would nevertheless answer as Mary did.
“Here I am, the servant of the Lord.”