Advent is a time of waiting, a time of anticipation and expectancy as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ into our world. Emmanuel—God with us. As a child, I loved the tradition of lighting an Advent wreath, with four candles representing the four Sundays of Advent and the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. Though I didn’t understand the significance of the candles then, the simple practice of lighting one each week helped to mark the time in what seemed like an unbearably long season of waiting.
That’s often how waiting feels to us, isn’t it? Unbearable and long. I wonder if that’s how Mary felt about her own season of waiting after learning she would give birth to God’s Son. What was it like to be expecting—quite literally—the hope of the world?
God invited Mary, an ordinary adolescent girl with hopes and dreams, fears and weaknesses, to participate in God’s plan—and she said yes. But contrary to romanticized notions about Mary, her yes was anything but simple or easy. In fact, her story acknowledges the challenges and difficulties that are part and parcel of saying yes to God and then waiting for God’s plan to unfold. And within her story we find four principles or “steps” for saying yes to God’s invitations.
1. Acknowledge your fear.
In Luke 1:26-38, we find Mary’s dramatic encounter with an angel, and we’re told right away that she was greatly troubled. Some translations say that she was confused. I would have been too! No doubt it was startling to see an angel face to face. But perhaps she also was confused by the angel’s greeting: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28 NIV). Sit with those words for a moment.
The Greek word for “favored” means “endowed with grace; to receive special honor; to be graciously accepted.” It’s likely that Mary felt that the words did not fit her, that she was not worthy, that the angel had the wrong girl. We can relate, can’t we? How often do we doubt our worthiness or ability when God calls us to something, leading to doubt and confusion and perhaps even fear. We know that Mary was afraid because the angel says, “Do not be afraid” (v. 29). Then the angel repeats, “You have found favor with God” (v. 30). The Greek word for favor in this verse is Charito, which means “free or unmerited gift.” And that's good news. We don’t have to earn God’s favor to be chosen by God. God loves us and calls us just as we are.
Notice that the angel didn't chastise Mary for her fear but reassured her, going on to describe God’s calling or invitation—to give birth to God’s Son. And I love this part—Mary’s immediate response was not to say yes but to question the angel. Again, I can relate! The angel gave a few sketchy details about how it would happen (I’m not sure I would have been satisfied with that limited explanation!) and then told her that her older relative Elizabeth, who was too old to bear a child, had conceived and was in her sixth month. It’s then, after Mary heard of Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy, that she said yes: “May your word to me be fulfilled” (v. 38).
2 Takeaways for Us:
2. Seek encouragement and support.
In Luke 1:39-45, we see that Mary didn’t waste any time making her way to Elizabeth. After saying yes to God, she needed encouragement and support. That wasn’t a weakness on Mary’s part. She knew her calling was not something she could complete on her own. So, she sought someone she knew would understand, someone who could offer her both empathy and encouragement. And we see that Mary was encouraged through the words of Elizabeth and the witness of the baby in Elizabeth’s womb.
2 Takeaways for Us:
3. Practice praise.
In Luke 1:46-55 we find Mary’s song of praise, called the Magnificat, which took place while Mary was with Elizabeth. It’s significant to note that Mary did not immediately praise God after her encounter with the angel. It wasn't until after she had received confirmation and encouragement from Elizabeth that she offered this praise. She began her song by proclaiming, “My soul glorifies the Lord…” (Luke 1:46 NLT). Some translations use the word “magnify,” which I think helps us to wrap our minds around how we glorify God. To glorify God is to magnify God and what God is doing in our lives—to make much of God. Yet so often we magnify our circumstances or our feelings or the behaviors of others. A good question to ask ourselves is What have I been magnifying lately? In other words, Where have I been fixing my gaze?
2 Takeaways for Us
4. Expect God to come through.
In Luke 2:1-19 we find the familiar story of Jesus’ birth, which shows us the faithfulness of God. Mary did not have an easy journey. It was roughly a ninety-mile trip to Bethlehem, and she was quickly approaching her due date. Though most nativity stories indicate Mary was riding on a donkey, it’s likely that she and Joseph had to walk most of the way. Imagine what it was like walking the unpaved terrain with its steep slopes and tremendous changes in elevation. Given Mary’s condition, it’s likely they covered only ten miles a day, so this would have been a nine-day trip. They may have encountered wild animals along the way—perhaps even thieves.
When they reached Bethlehem, the city was overcrowded with visitors, and there wasn’t room for them to find comfortable accommodations. Before they knew it, Mary was in labor. Though nativity scenes often depict Jesus’ birth in a barn or stable, it’s more likely that it was the lower level of a house where livestock would have been kept and a stone manger would be found. Not the most suitable environment for giving birth! After the baby arrived, so did some unexpected visitors—a group of shepherds from nearby fields. No doubt Mary and Joseph were surprised. Their journey had been full of challenges and obstacles—as well as provision and wonder. Lowly shepherds came to worship and testified of a choir of angels singing praise, confirming yet again God’s message to Mary.
2 Takeaways for Us
The spiritual journey is a continual process of saying yes to God and then "expecting"—anticipating with hope—what God will do in and through us. God is always extending invitations. Jesus said, “Come, follow me.” When we say yes and follow him, there are continual invitations to come closer and move deeper in our life with God.
So, what is God inviting you to say yes to in this season? And how might you begin to say yes? As you ponder these questions this Advent, I encourage you to acknowledge your fear, seek encouragement and support, practice praise, and expect God to come through. And if you’ve said yes to an invitation of God yet find yourself in what seems like an unbearably long season of waiting, remember Mary and take heart. As was true of Mary, God is both with you and within you. May the light and hope of Christ be born anew in you this Christmas!
Hi, I'm Sally!
I'm passionate about connecting with God and connecting with people, offering spiritual encouragement and companionship. I'm so grateful to be on the journey with you as we walk with God together.