DAY 1: AN ANGEL APPEARS TO MARY.

If you’re familiar with the Christmas story, it can be easy to read it with a bit of a romanticized or storybook view. The reality is that those involved in the actual events weren’t that different from us. They had a picture of how they thought life would go. They experienced questions, pressure, and fears just like us. Yes, the story of Christmas was miraculous, but it was also messy. And our look behind the scenes begins with a baby.

But it may not be the baby you’re thinking of. There was actually another miraculous birth that happened six months prior to the arrival of Jesus—the birth of John the Baptist, who would later become the famous prophet announcing the coming of Jesus the Messiah.

John the Baptist’s mother, Elizabeth, had been barren her entire life and was past childbearing years, yet she was chosen as the woman who would bring John into the world.

Six months into her pregnancy, the same angel who told Elizabeth about her pregnancy would now visit her relative Mary to announce an entirely different type of miraculous birth. This is from Luke, chapter one:

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:26–35)

We read this in hindsight as the incredible moment Mary finds out she will give birth to God’s Son. Yet thinking of Mary in that moment, it’s hard to believe she received all of this as good news. It would have been complicated to say the least—not to mention shocking. Consider this teenager, Mary, and the thoughts and emotions that might have been circling in her mind:

  • My fiancé’s going to freak out! Is he going to break things off with me?
  • I’ve got to tell my parents. Oh wait, my dad’s going to absolutely lose it!
  • This is going to be so embarrassing for my family.
  • I wasn’t planning to be a mom right now.

So while we look back and see this angel’s message to Mary as one of great hope, it is a hope that enters the world in the midst of extremely complicated circumstances. But that’s how hope generally works—it finds itself growing in confusion and unmet expectations.

That may be where you find yourself now—not where you thought you’d be. Behind the scenes of whatever’s going on, God is at work, and hope is present. You can find hope, and, like Mary, you can trust God—even with questions and confusion about the future.

After Mary took a moment to absorb everything the angel told her, look at her response:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)

Heavenly Father, each of us has a picture of how we’d like to experience this season. Remind us that your best work often happens behind the scenes we imagine for our lives. Help us to trust you with our questions and uncertainties just like Mary did. Amen.

If you’re familiar with the Christmas story, it can be easy to read it with a bit of a romanticized or storybook view. The reality is that those involved in the actual events weren’t that different from us.

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