Sunday, December 5, 2021

From Fear to Faith


Tonight I draw inspiration from the sermon I heard this morning at church. One of the elders gave the message, and in it he compared the angelic visitation of Zechariah and Mary.

Scripture tells us that on both occasions, it was Gabriel who served as God’s messenger. We don’t often think about the thoughts of angels, but we know they had desires and aspirations. What a task to be given! To herald both the Messiah and his forerunner. I wonder that he could barely hold in the news—one of the first instances of the Gospel (the good news) spoken. But such different experiences. One took place in the hallowed and architecturally stunning halls of the temple. The other, somewhere in a dusty, small town. It’s no wonder Gabriel received different responses. But they probably weren’t what he was expecting.

Zechariah definitely wasn’t prepared to encounter an angel that day, “but at least he was ready for a deep spiritual moment.” Mary on the other hand, was going about her daily life when suddenly a terrifying warrior of light appeared before her.

Without a doubt, Mary was troubled. But not at the sight of him (that was what made Zechariah become “gripped by fear”).

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 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. (Luke 1:26-29)
Mary was troubled at his words. “The Lord is with you.”

These seem like comforting words, and maybe they were. But underneath that comfort, Mary was probably recounting the stories of God showing up to her ancestors. After hearing the words, “God is with you,” nothing would be the same again.

I understand that kind of fear. It is a fear of change. Even if the announcement is a wonderful thing, a life-changing and world-shaping thing, it’s only human be at least a little afraid of how different things will be from then on.
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him 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 Jacob’s descendants 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 on 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 unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

(Luke 1:30-38)
“Nothing was safe about God showing up and declaring His victory”—indeed the Old Testament is filled with the results of such glorious military campaigns. But Mary seems to be stilled by Gabriel’s words. Maybe she sensed that this throne her baby will grow up to sit on is a different kind of throne. Maybe she really grasped the importance of the baby’s name, Jesus—"the Lord saves.” Regardless, even though she has shown fear at Gabriel’s first words (and is probably still reeling at the improbability of it all), she does not respond in fear. She responds in faith.

God used both Zechariah and Mary in powerful, yet humble ways. He knew their unique circumstances would give them a proclivity towards fear. But he allowed that fear to shape their humility and grow their faith. For Zechariah, it took nine months. We may never know why Mary said yes so quickly. But I imagine a radical transformation took place in her heart: from the fear of “God with you” to an utter hope that Immanuel was on the way. For no world from God will ever fail.

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