We are now in Advent, traditionally a time of looking forward and preparing for the coming of Christ through acts of remembrance and repentance as we get ourselves ready spiritually.
The word advent is the anglicised version of the Latin word adventus, which means 'coming', 'arrival', 'approach'. During this time we remember the longing ancient people had for a saviour, a messiah, but also how we should be alert for His second coming.
Today, however, I've been pondering the consequences of one particular visit or 'approach' that started off the events of that first Christmas. That of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, which I've been looking at in Luke 1:26-38.
I was struck afresh today what a bizarre and potentially terrifying experience it must have been for a young girl to suddenly be face to face with an angel. That itself was mind-blowing enough. And yet what about his message? To be told that you, a young, unmarried virgin, would be the mother of the Son of God?!
We obviously don't get a blow-by-blow account of the story in the Gospels, but I wonder what your response would have been if you had been given such a life-changing message?
We are told that at the start of the conversation 'Mary was greatly troubled at his words' (Luke 1:29). Don't you just love the Bible's skill at understatement? Troubled? I think I would have either frozen stiff, screamed for help or run away. And that was before he'd even told her God's plans...
Mary was obviously someone who sought God and made following Him a priority; that must have helped her recognise that this angelic being was indeed sent from God. I admire her courage for sticking it out, for staying long enough to hear his full message.
Pondering the passage in Luke, I do believe that God's peace must have descended on Mary when she accepted that she was listening to His messenger. How else could she stand there and listen without having a serious freak out?
But what strikes me the most is her simple trust and obedience. Just listen to what she says when Gabriel has finished his speech: 'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May your word to me be fulfilled.' (v38)
Part of me wants to shout at her: 'Come on Mary he's just totally disrupted your wedding plans – actually, he may well have cost you your wedding. Who is going to believe that you will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit? That just sounds crazy. Do you really think Joseph will believe you?'
And yet that side of me is silenced by the piercing effect her response has. Mary was being asked to trust an angelic being who had brought her a message that would turn her life upside down but, not only that, would change the world if the boy indeed turned out to be the Messiah they were all hoping for. What a privilege ... but what an enormous upheaval that necessitated her laying down her rights to all her dreams and plans.
What this passage has made me consider, is what I would do if Jesus or an angel came to me and asked me to disrupt my plans. Not my whole life – just my week's plans.
Would I say, 'I'm sorry, I've got too many work deadlines – oh and I'm preparing for my son's birthday next week. I'm just too busy at the moment. Maybe another time...'
Or: 'Come on, you know how pressurised this time of year is, trying to finish off work before the school holidays as well as host and/or attend the Christmas parties and take part in the carol services.'
I am someone who likes to know what I am doing and be well prepared in advance (aka a control freak!). Which is probably why I'm so challenged by Mary's heart response. And, if you read on, when she visits her aunt Elizabeth, who is given divine revelation about who the baby Mary is carrying is, Mary reveals what is truly in her heart:
'My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour' (v46-7)
Rather than being annoyed that God has interrupted her life plans, or focusing on the uncertainties and questions that must still have been running through her mind constantly, she is thankful to God for choosing her:
'for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me –
holy is his name. (vv48-9)
She goes on to remind herself of God's goodness throughout history (what a great reminder to us to do the same – see verses 50-55).
So, I want to leave you with a question. In this first week of Advent what would your answer be if God asked to interrupt your plans during this busy time of year? Would you put up a fight, try and reason Him down, or would you answer with a spontaneous, faith-filled yes?