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 to the word “favored.” What’s notable is that Mary’s proper name is only spoken once. The designation “favored” is spoken twice.
It’s 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.
I’d be perfectly willing to be numbered among the favored ones because in my mind God’s favor would look like this: First of all, the people that matter most to me would matter greatly to God. My children would be healthy and regularly make honor roll. God’s favor means charting a consistently upward course professionally; it means a marriage that grows deeper over time; it means approaching fifty in better shape that I was at thirty. God’s favor means a good life as I’ve defined it.
To be perfectly honest, I have received much favor from the Lord in my family and work. I am blessed. I know it’s true.
But what strikes me about Mary’s story is her response to God’s favor. Mary the favored one is troubled at Gabriel’s greeting. After Gabriel’s first attempt at an explanation, Mary still has questions. God’s favor comes to Mary as something disturbing, perplexing, confusing.
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 ease have very little to do with each other; they are not the same thing.
I take encouragement from Mary’s response to God’s favor: troubled, perplexed. And I wonder if maybe we can work in the other direction. Is it possible that today you can begin with what troubles you and somehow find grace in it? Is it possible that you can look deeply into that thing that has you stumped and perplexed, afraid and anxious, and find the favor of God? 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.
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. Like Mary, the skills we need are in listening and trusting. Take time to practice those today.
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.