Greetings, Highly Favored Woman!

angel

In a few days, Christians around the world will be celebrating the birth of Jesus. Families and friends will have traveled many miles to be with their loved ones on this special day. The Christmas story will be read and a white candle might be lit. Presents will be opened with delightful squeals; great food will be cooked and consumed; and living rooms will be filled with love and laughter. The magic and wonder of Christmas truly warms my heart. But over the years, Christmas has come to mean something much more to me. It’s a reminder that God often calls us to do difficult things.

When God chose Mary to be the mother of His son, the angel’s greeting quickly catches my attention. “Greetings, highly favored woman. The Lord is with you!” Maybe it’s just me, but when I read these words, it makes me think that Mary’s life is probably going to be fairly easy. Don’t people who are highly favored usually receive special privileges? They go to the head of the line; they get the best seats at the performance arts center; and they always fly first class.

Yet, when we read the Christmas story, we see that Mary’s life was anything but easy. She was 15 years old when she was engaged to be married to Joseph. Immediately after her encounter with the angel, Mary went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. When Mary returned three months later, it was obvious she was pregnant. A startled Joseph initially wanted to break off their engagement. I wonder, if at this point, Mary was feeling like a highly favored woman. This must have caused some sort of a scandal back then. Joseph hardly seemed to understand what was happening until he himself, was visited by an angel.

The trip back to Bethlehem had to have been difficult. It was an 85 mile journey and Mary was 8 months pregnant. She had two choices for her mode of transportation: she could ride a donkey or walk. At night she and Joseph slept on the hard ground. By the time they reached Bethlehem, she must have been exhausted, ready for a good nights sleep in a comfortable bed. But that didn’t happen. Instead, they were given a few blankets and told to sleep in the sheep shed. I wonder, if at this point, Mary was feeling like a highly favored woman?

Finally, in the stillness of the night when there was no one else was around, Jesus was born. A 15 year old girl gave birth to her little boy without the help of her mom, sisters, or friends. Here she was, a highly favored woman, giving birth to the Messiah all by herself, with only Joseph by her side and the bleating of sheep in the background.

Thirty three years later, Mary watches as her son is stripped, beaten, spit upon, and slowly crucified on a cross. How can this be? Jesus is God’s own son; the One for whom all creation has been eagerly awaiting. Yet, right now, in front of Mary, Jesus hangs on a cross, claiming God has forsaken him. Experiencing the deepest pain any mother can feel, I wonder if she felt like a highly favored woman.

My friends, we mustn’t miss this important aspect of the Christmas story. God often calls us to do difficult things, even when He calls us highly favored. His plan for us can, and often does, lead us down a very rough and lonely road. In the midst of the trials and heartaches, we might not feel very much like we’re highly favored. In fact, we might tend to feel more like we’ve been forgotten and abandoned. But take heart. The angel told Mary the Lord was with her, and the same goes for us. Being highly favored by God does not mean our life will be easy. What it does mean is that we are sometimes called to walk a very difficult path, but we’re not alone. Highly favored one, God is with us.

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