Have you ever received a gift that you loved, but despite its positive attributes, it also had some negative ones? For any of you that were gifted a Fitbit, your answer should be yes. Activity trackers are great because they provide that extra motivation to move a little more and to hit your daily fitness goals. But here’s the thing: it requires that we move a little more. Get a little sweaty. Go out for a walk, even when we don’t feel like it, which can be categorized as being not so great on certain days.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at gifts that were given during that first Christmas that have both positive and negative attributes. We’ll explore how those gifts continue to be delivered today and how they can impact our living. Today, we’re looking at the Gift of Favor.
Mary will serve as our example for both the positive and negative attributes that resulted from this gift. Let’s start with the good side first.
“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth . . . to a virgin pledged to be married. . . The virgin’s name was Mary.
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Luke 1:26-28, emphasis mine
This is the same angel who said to Zechariah, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news” (Luke 1:19)
We tend to skip over Mary, fearing we’ll give her too much credit and authority as others tend to do, but sometimes we go too far and don’t listen to her story close enough. Put yourself in her young shoes as an angel sent from God told her she was highly favored. How would you feel? What would you think?
That awareness did something to Mary, for how could it not? Listen in to the first portion of Mary’s song:
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”
Luke 1:46-48a, emphasis mine
So often, we play the childhood game of “he loves me, he loves me not,” even (dare I say especially?) when it comes to God’s love. After Gabriel told Mary she was favored by God, how could she continue plucking the leaves off the flower of love-doubt?
Yet with that gift came the other side of the coin, for her favor cost her too. She nearly lost the relationship to the man she was engaged to. After all, how many guys would believe a story about becoming pregnant without having sex? In fact, it wasn’t just Joseph that discounted her story (at least until an angel told him otherwise). Add “reputation” to the list of Mary’s losses. She went and hid out with Elizabeth, probably in part to avoid the murmuring about her she knew would be inevitable about her.
She lost her home. Mary and Joseph left Nazareth to be counted in the census, but then God warned them in a dream to not return home and instead they escaped to Egypt. I have lived as an ex-pat in another country. It definitely has its joys, yet there were times I just missed home. Other days I wanted to be around people who understood my customs and on the nights when I was too tired to speak a foreign language, I longed for the easy flow of conversation in my mother tongue.
The list could go on and on, but you get the point. But the real question is how does this gift of favor continue to this day?
Too often, we use our circumstances as a way to determine if we’ve merited God’s favor or if we’re on the outs. When things are good, we rejoice that we’re “in.” But just as quickly, when things turn bad, we wonder what we did to make God upset or go back to believing that we never deserved His mercy in the first place. Ironically, we never did deserve His grace, but that shouldn’t ever be part of the equation, for that is precisely why it’s considered a gift and not a payment of something we earned.
For some, December is a time of rich blessings. For others, the days are filled with heartache and grief, and many of us bounce between those two ends of the spectrum. Wherever we’re at on any particular day, can you commit with me to not use that moment’s circumstances as a gauge to determine if God loves us or not? Instead, let’s dress ourselves in this powerful truth:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
Colossians 3:12, emphasis mine
Join me in embracing both sides of the gift of favor.
P.S. This is part of a Gifts of Christmas talk I’ll be giving at a cookie exchange/tea at Christ Community Church on December 16th at 9:30. They have graciously allowed me to invite you, my dear readers, to come join us that morning. I would love to see you there if you can make it! Please just shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to let them know if you want to attend so they can make sure they have plenty of food for this free event.