During this time of the year, we often think of Mary. As I write, I’m looking around my home at the various nativities where she sits with her baby, her Lord. As I read Advent devotions, I marvel at her faith and willingness to accept this stunning assignment from God. One of my favorite writings about Mary comes from Elisabeth Elliot in “The Mother of the Lord” (http://www.elisabethelliot.org/newsletters2/nov.dec.1986.pdf)
Elisabeth wrote: “A dazzling stranger stands before her with a puzzling greeting. He calls her ‘most favored one’ and tells her the Lord is with her….Mary is troubled. She discerns at once that this has to do with things infinitely larger than herself, far beyond her understanding. What can it mean?”
When I remember that Gabriel greeted Mary as the “favored one,” (Luke 1:28) I’m instantly intrigued. This past year I did a study on the word “favor” in Scripture. Initially I was curious about the meaning of favor after reading Psalm 84:11, “The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” For some reason, it seemed that the Holy Spirit zeroed my attention on “favor,” and I realized that I seldom ever consider its significance. “Grace,” on the other hand, is something that I read about, think about, and sing about fairly often. And while Christians usually define “grace” as “God’s unmerited favor,” I don’t know that I ever considered what that essentially means.
I learned that the standard dictionary definition of “favor” is acceptance, courtesy, or preference, and its synonyms in a Bible dictionary include grace, blessing, or mercy.
When I looked up the word “favor” in my Bible concordance, I was amazed at how it is a thread woven throughout God’s story, throughout the covenants of the Old Testament and the new covenant in Christ.
Genesis 6:8 – “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”
In Exodus 33, Moses found favor in God’s sight.
God gave this promise to the Israelites in Leviticus 26 – “I will look on you with favor and I will keep my covenant with you … I will walk among you and will be your God and you shall be my people.”
Throughout God’s story, in all of His ways with people from biblical times to today, He displays His favor through His covenant and by His presence with those who believe in Him. For us who live on this side of Calvary, God’s favor is shown toward those who have trusted in His Son.
After I researched Bible dictionaries and concordances, I googled the phrase “God’s favor” and found that there are very different perspectives on what the experience of God’s favor looks like.
Some people equate God’s favor with prosperity. I think the Bible would agree, but not in terms of health and wealth. A biblical perspective of God’s favor challenges the Americanized definition of prosperity. What I see about God’s favor in Scripture is that it is NOT directly related to one’s status or station in life nor is it a ticket to a life of ease. Consider….
Noah found favor with God and spent over 100 years building an ark although the earth had never felt a single drop of rain.
Moses found favor with God, and had to lead the Israelites through the desert for more than 40 years.
Esther found favor with God, and risked being killed to save the Jewish people from annihilation.
Daniel found favor with God, and was thrown into a pit full of lions.
According to Chris Tiegreen in Fixing Abraham: “God’s favor is a tricky thing. It is poured out on messy lives and it can make certain aspects of life much messier. It should be profoundly comforting that the heroes of Scripture were perceived as flawed and foolish. That makes any of us qualified to fulfill God’s purposes. The amazing thing about their lives was what God did in them, not what they did themselves. Sometimes humility, honesty, and desperate faith were all they had to offer, but those are priceless commodities in the economy of God. He wants us to come to him on those very simple but uncomfortable terms.”
Jesus described these “simple but uncomfortable terms” when He said “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” (Matthew 5:3).
When I think of what it means to be “poor in spirit” I think of a character that is so unlike the self-assertive, self-sufficient disposition which the world admires and praises. Scripture reveals God’s favor as it was given to humble souls that were poor in spirit yet rich in worship.
Isaiah 66:2 – “I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at My word.”
1 Peter 5:5 & James 4:6: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
Luke, in chapters 1 and 2 of his gospel, highlighted God’s favor throughout the incarnation story ~
Luke 1:28 – The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Luke 1:30 – The angel said to her, “ Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.”
Luke 1:43 – (Elizabeth’s words): “But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Luke 2:24 – (The angelic proclamation to the shepherds): “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:40 – And the child (Jesus) grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
The story of our Savior’s birth is marked with inconveniences. Elizabeth bore a child in advanced age. Mary faced the possibility of losing her husband and her life. Joseph accepted unforeseen responsiblity and ridicule. The shepherds risked losing their livelihood to see the Messiah. The magi traveled far to give their worship.
And yet, God’s favor with was them. God in the flesh was with them. Mary’s heart was filled with the treasure of her Savior’s presence. The shepherds and wise men were filled with unspeakable joy and matchless wonder.
“Blessed are the poor in the spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Favored ones look through a lens of eternal promise.
But what does God’s favor mean for someone living 2000 years past Jesus’ birth?
God is still with us. When we receive His Son, we receive His acceptance, His covenant, His presence. Here at Christmas, that’s an enormously comforting truth.
God’s favor frees me from the pressure of my own expectations.
“Peace is not a reward for those who wrap everything by December 24. There can be no mad rush, no frantic preparations for the real spirit of Christmas. It simply fills our hearts as we are and where we are. Much the same, Christ did not need us to finish our work before He could save us. God’s salvation has always found us in the most unlikely of places and conditions…” (Ginger Garrett, “The Perfect Christmas” in InTouch magazine – http://www.intouch.org/magazine/content.aspx?topic=The_Perfect_Christmas).
It’s been an emotional day for me. I learned of something that someone I dearly love wants, and it was beyond my financial ability to make it happen. My husband and I have chosen for me to stay at home (having the choice is a wonderful blessing). But in insecure moments, I equate my worth with my ability to contribute. And in the season of giving, it hurts when I can’t contribute (and my husband’s presents come from his own paycheck.)
But God gave me the sweetest gifts today. In the midst of a tearful morning, my husband came home from work to say how much he appreciates me. And this afternoon, dear friends reminded me that this time of motherhood and ministry is a precious season. They helped me realize that my time is worth more than money can ever buy. And my worth lies not in what I contribute but in who (Whose) I am.
And I think about my salvation. I didn’t contribute to it. I can’t add to it. It is a gift of God’s favor. And though this life of faith is sometimes messy, I will choose to look through a lens of eternal promise and take a humble path made rich by His presence.
No good thing does He withhold – Psalm 84:11.