Some surprises can be good, some can cause a lot of stress and tension. Several years ago, I decided to throw a surprise birthday party for my wife. I had arranged all the guests and the time to show up at our house that afternoon, each of them bringing the cake or the drinks or the paper plates and so on. Her sister Linda was supposed to bring a couple of bags of ice for the drinks.
The morning of Diane’s birthday, I took her out to lunch. She had no idea that there was a party in store for her, and she was itching to go somewhere. The beach, the Balloon Festival, something, anywhere. And of course, I was dragging my feet because we need to be near the house that afternoon.
Then, her sister Linda called. She wasn’t going to be able to make it on time to the party, she’d be about 2 hours late. Since she was bringing the ice, I was going to have to go pick it up for her before the party started. This caused a problem. I’m driving around with Diane 30 minutes before the party, refusing to take her to the beach, and I have to come up with a reason to pick up 2 bags of ice and go home.
I pull into a convenience store, fill the car up with gas. I go pay and pick up 2 bags of ice. It’s 10 minutes before the party. I walk back to the car where Diane is sitting, wondering why we’re at the convenience store during her birthday and she sees the two bags of ice.
“What are those for?”
“Um… I thought I’d defrost the freezer this afternoon, and I need the ice to keep the contents cold.”
I suppose the idea of spending your birthday at home defrosting the refrigerator is a little much for anybody. She looked at me incredulously and said, “Have you lost your mind? It’s my birthday!” We drove home in silence just in time for the party. My “defrosting the freezer” comment is a source of amusement today, but I think she was mad at me for 10 years over it, even after she realized the surprise party plans.
What surprises have you had, good or bad?
What sort of reactions are normal when you’re surprised? Fear? Anger? Or Praise and rejoicing?
Today in preparation for Christmas, we’re going to look at a surprise Mary received. Let’s turn to the book of Luke, chapter 1.
II. Luke 1:46-47, Reacting with Worship
In Luke 1:26, the archangel Gabriel appears to a young teenage girl named Mary and gives her a surprise. I am amused at the NIV translation; I don’t know if the original Greek was intended to be funny, but in English in Luke 1:28-29,
“The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”
Now, what in the world did Gabriel say that made Mary so troubled? It’s like somebody telling you, “May the good Lord bless you and keep you,” and you thinking suspiciously to yourself, “I wonder what he meant by that?”
But I don’t think that’s why Mary was troubled. I think if Gabriel appeared to me today and said, “Greetings, Michael, the Lord has a surprise for you,” I’d be thinking, “uh oh.”
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
It’s normal to react with fear, anger, or any of a number of other emotions. But God challenges us to be something more than just our natural emotions. As His children, we have His glory to anticipate. Romans 8:28 reminds us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
So if we know that God is at work for us that love him, our reaction should be quite different. It is good news – God is at work for me.
That does not mean that everything that happens in our life is good. Tragedies, trials, temptations, evils and calamities will come. But with a complete view of the work that God is doing in us and a hope for our salvations, we don’t have to react with fear or anger or anxiety.
So when Gabriel the archangel appeared to Mary and said, “Surprise!” Mary’s reaction was quite different. Let’s look at Mary’s Song beginning in verse 46 –
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
Mary reacts with joy and praise and adoration to the surprise Gabriel just sprung on her. Her soul glorifies the Lord, a recognition of God’s awesome power and wonder. Her spirit rejoices in that she knows the Lord is about to use her in a powerful way to accomplish His will. And she rejoices in the Lord God, her Savior.
This is the reaction God desires from us today when we are confronted with the unknown. God is awesome, God is at work in me, God is my savior.
That sounds great on paper. What keeps us from reacting with joy and praise when we are encountered with the unknown? (Possibility: We fear God is not at work, our faith in God to care for us is little.)
III. Luke 1:48-50, God’s Favor
Let’s look at the type of person Mary was. Perhaps if we can better understand why the Lord chose her, we can strive to become the type of person God is looking for. Luke 1:48-50 –
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. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
According to these two verses from Mary’s Song, she believes God’s favor rests upon her because she is humble and she fears Him. To those who are humble and fear the Lord, the Lord will extend His mercy.
What is humility? How do we get better at being humble?
Many people misunderstand what Christian humility is all about. “I am such a wretch, I’m worthless.” But thinking poorly of yourself is not the same as humility; that’s more like low self-esteem. And while the pious Christian is right to recognize that his own righteousness pales to the righteousness of God as in the hymn, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me,” it does not mean we should be depressed or morose about it. Because while we may be wretches of righteousness, we are also children of God! Not by our own hand, but by the tremendous grace of God.
When we stand before God at the day of our judgment, we will be judged on our righteousness. If we have been washed by the blood of Jesus, Jesus’ will substitute His righteousness for ours. While we may be wretches, Jesus is awesome, and we are His.
The humility of Jesus also far outpaces anything that comes from us. For instance, our natural tendency is to associate with people we find interesting. Or attractive, or intelligent, or well-bred, or accomplished. And we’re happy to let other people know we are in the company of such amazing people. Other people make us uncomfortable and we don’t want to spend much time with them. The mentally-retarded, people who smell awful. People who have disgusting habits or drool in public. We are ashamed or uncomfortable around such people, yet our Lord and Savior is willing to come into their lives and live in them. They become part of His family. And perhaps we can come to realize that compared to the amazing compassion and humility of Jesus, we are the drooling ones.
Who among us would be willing to let our child to be born in an animal feeding trough? In order to fulfill the will of God, Mary was willing. She was humble before the Lord.
IV. Luke 1:51-53, God’s Fairness
Then Mary sings in Luke 1:51-53,
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
Mary recognizes that God and God alone is in control. He brings down prideful rulers, he raises up lowly people born in animal feeding troughs. God is fair and takes care of His children, but He will bring down the prideful.
God is against the prideful. What is pride?
Pride is the opposite of humility. While Christian humility recognizes that God is in control and that God alone is worth worshipping, pride says that I rely on myself. Pride says, “I deserve this.” Got wants us to be his hands and feet in His service but make sure we’re giving all the glory to Him for being able to serve. Got definitely wants us on the path to righteousness. But we’re not supposed to be an obstacle in that path.
I think John the Baptist says it well. John was baptizing at Aenon near Salim when some of his disciples said, “Hey, that man you metioned? Jesus? He’s baptizing people on the other side of the Jordon, and some people are going over there instead!”
John 3:27-30 –
To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.
And that’s our balance between pride and humility. He must become greater; I must become less. I will strive to do His will and give Him all the credit for what I am able to do.
V. Luke 1:54-55, God’s Faithfulness
Mary’s Song ends with the remembrance of God’s faithfulness in Luke 1:54-55 –
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.
We can take great joy in God’s favor to the humble by remembering that God’s plan is working and that He has given us a chance to be part of His plan. God made a promise to Abraham that He would be a father of nations. God made a promise to Abraham’s descendants that they would enter the promised land. And He made a promise to Mary that her child would be the son of God. Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
And He made a promise to you and to me. We have eternal life with Him and that is our ultimate destiny.
Life is full of surprises. We can react with fear or anger, but we miss out on the joy of recognizing God’s plans for us. Are you fearful over a surprise in your life? How can you turn that into joy?
By recognizing the plan God has for you, that in this life and he next it is our joy to serve Him however He sees fit. By remembering our humility in the face of His awesome splendor without giving in to self-deprecation and low self-esteem. By being pleased that God will show favor upon us and we are His children without giving into pride that somehow it is us who are awesome, but instead it is Him being awesome through us toward others.
We have no reason to feel fear or anxiety. We have a savior, a savior born to us in a manger to save us all. Rejoice in our God who surprises us. To God be the glory.