It seems that the only time we give much thought to the Christmas story is at Christmastime. Apart from that, we preachers don’t often use the text for a message. I’ve learned that there are truths found in the story that speak to my heart, not only in December, but they provide help for me at any moment of my life. That is something I’ve learned about this part of the story in dealing with the angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary. Mary lived in a small town called Nazareth. As a matter of fact, Nazareth was a town with a bad reputation. Remember in John 1 when Philip found Nathaniel and told him they had found the one prophesied about, Jesus of Nazareth. Nathaniel responds, Can there any good thing come
out of Nazareth? Philip said, Come and see. It was in this place that Mary lived and served the Lord. It is possible to live right in a hard place, whether office, school, community, or family. On top of that, most Bible scholars say that Mary was just a teenager, possibly around 14-16 years old at the time. Her faith, her humility, and her willingness to obey the Lord is a tremendous testimony to us today.
The thing that has my attention today is what the Lord has called on Mary to do and how it changed her life. Mary and Joseph were in the espousal period of their relationship, which in that day, would last for a year and was as binding as marriage. That’s why it required a divorce to end it, if Joseph so desired, after learning of her expecting a child and knowing it wasn’t his. Surely, they had planned a wedding celebration and, no doubt, planning for their future as husband and wife after their marriage. They were planning for how they would spend their lives together. Suddenly everything for them changed. A single day, a sudden event changed everything for Mary and Joseph. Life can be that way. Sudden events have a way of changing everything in our lives. An unexpected sickness, an unexpected loss, a sudden dilemma that we find ourselves facing, and our world is suddenly changed. Maybe you’ve had plans for the future, and now all of that has changed. Maybe you’ve had plans about relationships, which have changed. Maybe you’ve had hopes and dreams that have faded like the morning mist because something has changed. I’d like to share some encouraging thoughts here about when life takes you by surprise.
There are some facts based on Mary’s experience that will help us in those times. When life takes you by surprise, It doesn’t change the fact of God’s grace. The words “highly favoured” in vs 28 mean to surround with favor, to compass by grace, or to be enriched by grace. Her story and our story are one and the same here. We live lives that have been surrounded and compassed with God’s divine favor and grace. Grace doesn’t come to us because of who we are but because of who He is. Eph 2:8-9-For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast. Whether you realize it or not, you are highly favored of God. Think about where He found you. Think about your life. Think about all He has done for you. God is rich in mercy and grace to us, and He loves us with an everlasting love. When life takes us by surprise, when things haven’t gone the way we thought they would, when everything seems all messed up for us, it doesn’t change the fact of God’s grace.
When life takes you by surprise, it doesn’t change the fact of God’s presence either. Gabriel says, “the Lord is with thee”. Gabriel is about the drop a bombshell of news on Mary. It will change everything in her world, but before he does, he tells her this. When life changes, when plans fall apart, when difficulty seems to be our closest companion, it will never change this fact. The word “Lord” is the word which means the One who has all authority and power, the One who is Lord of lords. Gabriel says that the Lord is with thee. The word “with” means in the midst or to accompany. The idea is right now, in the exact place where you are, the Lord is with you. He is in the midst of your situation. He is accompanying you in the journey. David declared, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” So often, when we’re hurting or struggling, we feel as though the Lord has forgotten about us and our situation. Mary was going to need this going forward. There would be days she would surely think of these words again and again of how the Lord was with her. Little did Mary know all that she was going to have to deal with and face, but she could face it all because of this very fact. Although life has taken us by surprise, it doesn’t change the fact of God’s grace and it doesn’t change the fact of God’s presence.
When life takes you by surprise, it doesn’t change the fact of God’s plan. One of the things that is often hard to realize is that although things take us by surprise, they never take Him by surprise. I’ll never forget the words of a great preacher who has already gone home to be with the Lord when he said, “Did it ever occur to you that nothing ever occurs to God.” That’s so true, and I’ve gone back to that in my mind countless times. God told the children of Israel in Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the thoughts (designs or plans) that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace (to be made complete by adding or subtracting), and not of evil, to give you an expected end (a destined goal). God has a plan that we often don’t fully see, and neither did Mary. She didn’t fully grasp all she was hearing, as seen in verse 29. It’s hard to understand why things are as they are, but they are according to God’s plan for our lives. We’ll understand it better when we get home.
Finally, When life takes you by surprise, it doesn’t change the fact of God’s ability. Mary’s question is a natural question to ask in verse 34. We often have questions too, don’t we? The answer from Gabriel was that the Holy Ghost would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her. What would happen was according to God’s plan, and she would deal with it all by God’s power. Notice the wording of verses 31-33, 35. You find the words “shalt” or “shall” 10 times. They are words of purpose and words of assurance. What God has said He will do. Don’t ever let the enemy tell you that your problem, your situation, or your need is beyond His ability. Just to make sure Mary got it, Gabriel tells her about her cousin Elisabeth who was pregnant with John, and she was barren. One thing that encourages us when we’re hurting is to see how God has worked in the lives of others. Mary goes to spend time with Elisabeth, which will encourage Mary. The Lord has a way of putting people in our lives during difficult times to be an encouragement to us.
The last thing Gabriel says to Mary is in verse 37. I wonder how often Mary thought of this too. When she had to face Joseph. When she had to face her parents and his parents. When people were gossiping about her and pointing fingers at her. When she had to make the journey of 80 miles to Bethlehem, being nine months pregnant. When she learned she would be giving birth in a barn. When she heard people telling Jesus that He was born of fornication. When the burdens of life, the heartaches of life, the disappointments of life, the struggles of life take us by surprise, don’t forget this fact: with God, nothing shall be impossible!
Don’t miss what Mary said in vs 38. Mary surely didn’t understand it all but humbly accepted what God was placing in her and on her. That is true submission. To be honest with you, I’m afraid that I’m not always that submissive. I wonder what blessings I’ve missed when I’ve allowed what has taken my life by surprise to cause me to not be humble or submissive to God’s plan as I should be. Does this speak to your heart today? If so, let the Lord use it to encourage you and help you to keep trusting Him.
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