A friend of mine, Brian, was asked to be the chaplain for the 2004 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. He thought someone was pranking him. After looking behind him, and then back at the delegation across from the small table at a coffee shop, Brian said, “Who, me?” and pointed at his own chest. “Yes,” was the reply, “We believe you have the skills of leadership, patience and prayer that are needed at what is probably going to be a tumultuous convention.”
Taking compliments does not come easy. We have to teach our children how to do it, “Remember to say, ‘thank you.’” Our first instinct seems to be skepticism. Our second is to ignore or brush off the compliment.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was minding her own business one day, I imagine, when suddenly the angel Gabriel appeared. He said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” Mary’s reaction was confusion and she wondered what kind of greeting this might be. (Luke 1:29) I imagine she thought, “Favored one, me?” Did she look behind her to see if the angel was talking about someone else? After a moment of silence, Gabriel continued, “Don’t be afraid. God is pleased with you. You will have a son. His name will be Jesus. He will be great, will be called Son of God, will rule forever and his kingdom will have no end.” After hearing how great her son would be, she circled back around to becoming pregnant. Her response, “How can this happen? I am not married.” (1:29-34)
Like Mary, I too have pondered this whole event. After the first announcement, which was met with silence from Mary, Gabriel’s next assertion was, “Do not be afraid.” Did Gabriel confuse Mary’s silence and pondering with fear? Or, did she immediately fall to her knees in reverence and fear of the Lord… which is what any reasonable person would do. But, on the other hand, the folks I have talked to that have met an angel, did not hit the dirt. Instead, like Mary, they did the same thing – they pondered why they had been singled out by an angel.
More to the point, it’s hard to imagine being called “favored one” from God. I wonder if Mary’s two-part response, “How can this be,” and “I am not married,” is first intended for the compliment – favored one – and then second, how can I be pregnant when married I am not.
History shows that Mary was the favored one. All generations have called her blessed. Maybe it’s that God sees not what we are currently, but what we are going to be. Mary was called favored, and thus became The Favored One. She was not pregnant, but she became the Mother of Jesus.
The so-called magic of Christmas is feeling favored. Whether it is receiving of a gift, or spending time with people who love you for who you are, or being treated with your favorite food, this is a season of feeling favored by God. Yes, God sent Jesus to us; but, more specifically, for us. Why, because we are favored by God.