This is one of the best weeks of the entire school year – the week of our Preschool and Elementary Christmas programs! These programs are so beautiful because children have an authentic and innocent faith. When they sing “Joy to the World,” they sing it with joy. When they recite Luke 2, you can tell that they believe every single word. When they proclaim that the Savior has come, they know that they need one. When I watch kids sing in a Christmas program, I really start to understand what Jesus meant by childlike faith. They call me to repentance for my own skepticism, cynicism, and doubt. They remind me that God is so big and His plans for our salvation are so perfect. And in this Christmas season, they remind me of another child who exhibited incredible faith.
Check this out.
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,
27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.
31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.
32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.
37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
First of all, let me provide a little context. Given the customs of the first century, it is safe to assume that Mary was probably 12 or 13-years old, as betrothal usually happened at the time of puberty. Second, we have to realize that Jewish culture was based on honor and shame, and that nothing was quite as shameful as pregnancy out of wedlock. Third, we have to realize that Nazareth was a really small village (even by the standards of the first century) and that everyone knew everything about everyone. With this in mind, let’s look at verse 38 again. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
If we understand the context of Mary’s “yes,” we start to gain an appreciation for the cost of that decision. Mary is saying yes to rejection from everyone in her village. She is saying yes to a life of gossip and rumors and shame. She is agreeing to break Joseph’s heart and possibly lose him in the process. This “yes” was going to cost her everything. And, this doesn’t even begin to address the way her son would be treated by her family and her village. We don’t tend to think much about Jesus’ childhood, but just think how many times he was ridiculed for his mother’s promiscuity and his own illegitimacy. This was a costly “yes.”
It would be one thing to sacrifice all of this for a guarantee of some kind of future glory or future payout. But, the angel didn’t do the “Ghost of Christmas Future” thing where he showed her exactly what would happen if she said “yes” in the moment. All she had was his word and her ingrained knowledge of prophecies that a Messiah would someday come.
What kind of faith is this? This 12 or 13-year old girl was willing to completely humble herself and sacrifice everything that mattered in her culture, with no guarantee that it would actually work out.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think my response would have been so favorable. If it were me, I would have said something like, “Ok, angel … thanks for offer. I appreciate it. But, let’s negotiate a little bit. What kind of guarantees can you offer? What kind of insurance is included? If I am going to give up all of this, I want some kind of contract.” (On a side note, it is really interesting to contrast the response of Mary, a nobody from nowhere, with the account of Zechariah found earlier in this chapter. Luke tells us that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were blameless and holy. But when the angel tells Zechariah that his barren wife is going to give birth to John the Baptist, his response is, “How can I be sure of this?” He wants a guarantee. He wants proof … I can identify with Zechariah.)
But Mary didn’t ask for any of that. She simply said, “Ok, I trust you; let’s do it.” Wow, talk about a lesson in humility and self-sacrifice. Talk about elevating the needs of others above your own.
What if we actually lived with this kind of faith? What if we were actually willing to sacrifice everyone and everything that matters to us in order to do God’s will? What if we actually believed that faith was a worthwhile pursuit, even if there was no guarantee of earthly glory?
The thing is … God has promised us future glory, but there is no guarantee that it will be reflected in our bank statements, our health, our status, our possessions, our career, our house, our cars, our recognition, etc. All we have are words and prophecies that there is more to come. All we have is a tugging on our heart that there is more than this. All we have is a promise of eternal peace that is impossible to understand in our temporal state. All we have is faith that God’s will and purposes will ultimately be accomplished.
I want to live like Mary … with that sold-out radical kind of faith, where I allow God to use me as he sees fit no matter what it does to my reputation, my income, my relationships, my social status. And, as I read the story of Mary, I am convicted by the faith of a 12-year old and I can do nothing but repent for my lack of faith and my desire to control my own life.
And that, I think, is the message that we all need to hear at Christmas. Our life is not about us. God’s purpose and His plan is so much greater. He has a plan for the salvation and reconciliation of all things. And He wants us to play a part in it. All He asks is a little bit of childlike faith.