The angel went to her and said “Greetings, you who are highly favored! . . . Mary was troubled at his words (Luke 1:28-29).
Before Gabriel spoke Mary’s name, he called her “favored.”
Her name is spoken later as the angel tries to reassure Mary and give some definition as to what this favor looks like and what it means. What’s notable is that Mary’s proper name is only spoken once (1:30). The designation “favored” is spoken twice (1:28, 30).
This is true of all of us: grace defines life far more than a name or title.
Mary is favored by God. That sounds good, doesn’t it? What could be better than being told – by an angel no less – that you are favored by God, that God is inclined toward you, takes notice of you and directs his blessing toward you? God’s favor sounds like a very good thing indeed.
God’s Favor on Our Terms
I’d be perfectly willing to be numbered among the favored ones because in my mind God’s favor would look like this: good health, a flourishing family life, meaningful and satisfying work, money for what I need and occasionally for things beyond that. To me, God’s favor means tangible experiences of blessing.
In other words, God’s favor means a good life as I’ve defined it.
What strikes me about Mary’s story is her response to God’s favor. Mary, the favored one, is troubled at Gabriel’s greeting. The NIV Bible says, “greatly troubled.” The Amplified Bible says she was “greatly perplexed,” while the NLT renders the phrase “confused and disturbed.” After Gabriel’s first attempt at an explanation, Mary still has questions. God’s favor comes to Mary as something disturbing, perplexing, confusing.
Mary’s story teaches us that God’s favor doesn’t mean getting the life we want. God’s favor means being summoned to a life we never imagined. God’s favor and our comfort have little to do with each other; they are not the same thing.
God With Us
I take encouragement from Mary’s response to God’s favor: troubled, perplexed. Maybe you can too. Most of us know what it is to face something that has us confused and unsettled. We know what it is to struggle to make sense of what we’re living through. God’s favor may rest on you right now, but you don’t know it. If we define God’s “favor” strictly on our terms, it’s probably easy to miss.
If we look ahead in the nativity story, we see Mary and Joseph, about nine months after Gabriel’s appearance, making their way to Bethlehem from Nazareth. Mary knows she could have her baby very soon – but she isn’t at home, near her own bed, with friends and family nearby. She’s making an 80-mile journey on a donkey, possibly frightened and miserable, hoping for a decent place to stay. This hardly looks like being favored.
But maybe Joseph reminded Mary of his dream. Their child is “Immanuel . . . God with us.”
And perhaps that is the true meaning of God’s favor: his faithful presence with us in whatever it is that has us perplexed and disturbed. Take heart, all you who are troubled. There’s favor to be found in what you can’t seem to sort through or figure out. In whatever that might be for you today, God is with you.
And you too are favored.
God, we thank you for your grace and favor. We give you thanks for the many different ways your favor comes to us. Teach us to look for your favor in what troubles us and not simply in what we believe would make for our own happiness. We would be a listening and trusting people today, in reliance upon your Spirit. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.