When I was a kid, Christmas Eve was the longest day of the year. We opened presents as a family on Christmas Eve because Christmas morning, we had church. It was our tradition to invite my grandparents out to a nice dinner, come home, and open presents. As a child, these dinners could not have lasted any longer! This was the one time a year I wasn’t very hungry and couldn’t wait for the meal to be over. We would finally finish, drive home, unload, get settled in, figure out who would distribute gifts and what order to open them. Finally, we would open presents.
Waiting is hard. It’s hard putting off to the future something you desire right now. Waiting is hard because waiting requires faith, and faith is hard.
When the angel Gabriel visited the virgin Mary, Mary exercised faith. This Mary, the most lowly of women, the most unlikeliest of candidates, God chooses to bestow the greatest honor that could ever be given to any woman who has ever lived. She would be the mother of the Son of God. And how does Mary respond? In faith.
Mary’s response Gabriel teaches us three things about faith:
Faith is Real
Here’s what I mean: faith doesn’t have to pretend to be pious or to be something that it’s not. It can react honestly and ask questions without fear.
When Gabriel appeared to Mary, his greeting confused her. “Greetings, O favored one. The Lord is with you!” You can almost imagine Mary looking around thinking, “Is he talking to me?” She was greatly troubled, and she was trying to work out what was happening in her mind, “What’s going on? I don’t understand what’s happening right now.” She even showed signs of fear.
Mary shows us that you can have faith in God and still be surprised and confused. You don’t have to put on this pious air that you always know what is going on and are un-phased. She was confused and burdened and fearful. There is space in faith for a troubled heart, a fearful heart.
Faith also has room for questions. The angel tells Mary the most incredible news: Mary has found favor with God, and she will have a son whose name is to be Jesus. He will be great, the Son of Most High, he will be given the throne of his father David, and he’ll reign over Jacob’s house with an everlasting kingdom. Talk about too good to be true! Overcome, she asks the question: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
Unlike Zechariah six months earlier, Mary’s question comes of out her faith, not out of doubt. She believes Gabriel, but she doesn’t understand how it is possible. No virgin has had a baby before. At least there’s precedent with Zechariah and Elizabeth. A man and a woman, even if they are old, can have a child. But Mary has no husband. How can this work?
This whole situation is outside of her experience; out of anyone’s experience really. Zechariah asked the question, “Will you really do this, God?” Mary asked, “How will you do this?”
God can handle questions asked in faith. He even welcomes them. When little kids ask their parents a million questions, it can be really frustrating. Constant questions are hard, but they signify a relationship. A child asks because they believe in their parent’s ability to give to them things for which they ask. It’s a sign of adoration to parents. But when a child stops asking, then you need to take notice. Not asking questions shows a lack of relationship, a lack of trust in the other person. Mary asks because she has faith in her relationship with God.
Faith gives us freedom to be real and ask questions—honest questions—of God. “How can this be?” “What should I do?” “What is going on?” “Where are you?” We ask questions of God because we adore him and have a relationship with him. We stop asking questions when apathy sets in. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in faith.
2. Faith is Submissive
After Mary asks her question in faith, Gabriel tells her how it’s all going to happen: the Holy Spirit. “The details are too lofty to understand, Mary, but the Holy Spirit will ensure it will happen. And as added assurance for you, your advanced-in-age cousin Elizabeth is going to have a son!”
And then Gabriel says something so profound, so staggering, so true, but something so hard for us to always believe: “Nothing is impossible with God.” Not even a virgin having a baby is impossible with God!
We know Mary responds with faith because she submits to God as his servant. We can’t have Mary’s submission be lost on us. This is a huge deal. Why? Because her submission to God meant opening herself up to reproach.
When Elizabeth conceived, the Lord removed her reproach. But not for Mary. Her pregnancy brought it. Imagine the whispers behind her back, “Pregnant?! And not married?! My goodness!” And who would believe Mary’s explanation: “It’s okay. The Holy Spirit came upon me. God’s Son is in my womb.” Not only is she an adulteress, but maybe she’s crazy. Mary shows us that faith submits to God even in face of reproach. In God’s eyes, she is blessed. In the world’s eyes, she has a scarlet “A”. But Mary believes God, and submits herself to him.
Mary’s son, the Son of God, also submitted to God his Father in faith. It also brought reproach, but also so much more. He lost his life. In the garden before his arrest, he prayed a faith prayer of submission: “God, take this cup from me; not my will but yours be done.”
When we submit to God through faith in Jesus, our submissive faith lands placed on One who himself submitted in faith. Jesus submitted to death for our sins so that we could have life through him!
3. Faith Acts
Mary left with haste and went to see Elizabeth. She began to act as if what the angel saw was actually true. She went to Elizabeth to be encouraged, but also maybe out of fear of the future. She probably didn’t want to deal with all the comments and questions. Whatever the reason, she acted.
Elizabeth observed Mary’s faith. John leaped in her womb when Mary arrived, and Elizabeth blesses Mary. And then she comments on Mary’s faith: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Mary acts in the present as if the future is as certain as the past.
Just look at her beautiful song, the Magnificat, the song is so similar to Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2. It reflects God’s actions. Mary praises God for what God has done. And she refers to all of God’s saving work in the past tense. Just think of it: Gabriel has just told her what God will do in the future, and she is so certain of the future that she refers to God’s saving actions in the past tense.
That’s what faith does. Even though the future is uncertain, you can live in the present as if the future is as certain as the past because your trust is in God. Remember Abraham? This was the faith he displayed: He believed in hope.
18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone. (Romans 4:18-25 ESV)
By faith, he acted.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Hebrews 11:8-13 ESV)
Mary would hold her baby in her arms, see him grow up, watch him die, and witness his resurrection. Abraham didn’t get to see God’s promises fulfilled in his lifetime, but he lived them as if they were.
In faith, he lived in the present as if the future were as certain as the past.
During Advent, live in the present as if the future is as certain as the past. Wait in hope. Because Jesus came once and promised he would come again, we wait in hopeful anticipation. Jesus came once and died on the cross to save us from sin, he rose again to defeat death. And he’s coming again. It’s certain.
Live today, not clinging to non-eternal things. Christ is coming again and the former things are going to pass away. So why should we cling to things that won’t matter?
Reject the fear of missing out. Technology has created a fear of missing out on things because we see other people’s lives and feel like out lives are not as significant. But through faith in Christ, we have a future that will trump anything that has ever been posted on social media. We can be content in the present because of what the future holds.
Rest in the stillness and the silence, abandoning speed for the space of a relationship with Christ. Faith allows an opportunity to “Be still and know that he is God.” Faith provides release and relief.
Live in the present as if the future is as certain as the past, that Jesus’ return to make all things new is just as certain as his birth, death, and resurrection.