Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”Luke 1:38
Think back for a moment to a year ago, back to late December of 2019. Do you remember what your plans were for 2020? Your hopes and dreams for 2020? I think that it is safe to say that 2020 did not go as planned for any of you, or most likely for anyone on this Earth. But then again, when you think about it, when does life really go as planned?
Today, on this last Sunday before Christmas, our focus turns to a young woman whose life definitely did not go as planned. But without these unplanned changes, there would be no Christmas. And that, of course, is Mary. And this young lady, from a small town in the Middle East, has much to teach us about how to live faithfully when life does not go as planned. The gospel reading for today is Luke 1:26-38.
Mary, the Mother of our Lord, is by any measure, an amazing person, who changed the course of human history forever. Her courageous “yes” to the angel Gabriel meant that her life would never be the same. And neither would ours. And today, we hear her story. And it is an incredible story, any way you look at it.
At the time of Gabriel’s visit, Mary is almost certainly a young, teenage girl, engaged to Joseph, and living in the small town of Nazareth. We don’t know what plans Mary had for her life, but we can be quite sure that they were not the same as God’s plans for her! We can imagine that she was looking forward to her wedding, and to starting a family with Joseph. She was no doubt picturing her life in Nazareth, with Joseph and with her friends and family. She was an ordinary girl, with ordinary hopes and dreams for her life.
And now, with this visit from the angel Gabriel, all of that is upended. All of her plans have changed. She is now with child from the Holy Spirit. What would Joseph think of this? What would her parents think? Her friends? What would this mean for her marriage, and for her life?
God’s plans for Mary were very different from her plans. But isn’t that the same for us all, in one way or another? We all have plans for our life. And God has plans for our life, too. As we hear in Jeremiah 29, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.” But our plans and God’s plans almost never line up. As the old saying goes, if you want to make God laugh, just tell God your plans. So, what happens when our plans and God’s plans don’t match? What then? Well, that is what we can learn from Mary. When something happens in our life that changes our course, we can respond in the same way that Mary did to the angel’s visit.
Where Is God in All This?
When the angel Gabriel arrived at Mary’s doorstep that day, he said, simply: “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” And Mary “was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”
That seems to me to be a good start – a good thing to do when an unexpected event takes place in our life that perplexes us – we can take time to ponder what it means for us.
Back when I was in seminary, I learned that in those moments it is helpful to ask a particular question: Where is God in all this? Or, to use the acronym, WIGIAT? When something unexpected happens in your life, be it good or bad, it is good to ask the WIGIAT question – Where is God in all this? That’s what Mary did when she pondered the angel’s unexpected appearance. That’s what we can do, too, whenever our life takes unexpected turns. Ponder what it means, and ask where God is in it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that God is behind this event, or that God caused it. But instead that we can always find God in it, when we look with the eyes of faith. When we ask the “WIGIAT” question, when we ask where God is in that experience, we can always find it.
After Mary did this, the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.”
Wow! That’s quite a message. Can you even imagine what your reaction might have been to a message like that? I love Mary’s very practical response to this wondrous message from God – “How can this be,” she asks, “since I am a virgin?”
After asking the WIGIAT question, Mary does a very wise thing – she gets practical. How is this going to happen? I’m already engaged to Joseph, and I’m a virgin. So how am I going to conceive and bear a son? When something unexpected happens in our life, it is always good to ask the “WIGIAT” question. But if we feel that this experience is calling us to a new path or a new venture, then it is good to ask some practical questions before starting down that path.
Mary’s son taught us this, too, when he told us that, before we try to build a tower, we should estimate the cost and make sure we have enough to complete it.
In response to Mary’s practical question, the angel gives her an answer – “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.”
Take the Leap of Faith
And now comes the key moment in the story. The unexpected event has taken place; Mary has asked the WIGIAT question; she has asked the practical question; she has received some insights, some answers from God. Now it is time for her to make a decision – to either go down this new path that God is inviting us to, or to turn back. That’s the choice Mary is faced with.
We all will have moments in our life when we are faced with a similar decision. An unexpected event will take place in our life; we will ask the WIGIAT question, ask the practical question. And then have a choice to make – to either make a leap of faith, or play it safe. We all have moments in our life that have much in common with Mary’s moment that day in Nazareth. Probably not a direct visit from an angel. But some kind of experience that changes our life, and that invites us down a new path. And those moments leave us with a choice – make a leap of faith, or play it safe.
Our Leap Is Easier Because of Mary
But if we go back to Mary’s moment, we can see that her decision makes our choice easier. Mary, of course, chose the leap of faith. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord,” she said, “let it be with me according to your word.” But because Mary made this choice, this courageous sacrifice, there was born for us our Savior. He went about Israel teaching us how to live courageously, and sacrificially, and how to make a difference in life. And then he did the most courageous thing imaginable, the greatest sacrifice this world has ever known, to make the greatest difference in life. And his death on the cross changed every life ever since. And made every choice of ours easier.
Because Mary said “yes” to God, our choice is easier, in other words, because we know the ending. We know how our lives will turn out, in the end. We know, as Scripture puts, that God has plans for us; and that these plans include being with us, and with all those we love, forever. And that nothing in this life or this world can separate us from God’s love, or take us from these plans. Nothing. And because of all that, our choice is easier than Mary’s.
We can make the leap of faith confident that God will catch us if we fall. We can say yes to God, knowing that God has already said yes to us. We can serve God with abandon, and follow wherever God leads, knowing that wherever our life leads us, God will always be right there with us. We can face unexpected events in our life and respond with faith, knowing that God will be faithful to us, always.
These unexpected events in our lives will still catch us unawares; we will be perplexed; we will ponder; we will ask: “Where is God in all this?”; we will have to deal with the practical aspects of it all. But when there is a choice to be made, we can choose the way of faith, without fear, because of a young girl from Nazareth, who chose that same way of faith two millennia ago, and who taught us all how about courage and sacrifice and how to make a difference in life.
Soon enough, 2021 will be upon us. It will no doubt have its share of unexpected blessings and challenges, just like any other year. It won’t go quite as planned. We can be sure of that. But God will be with us throughout it. We can be sure of that, too. So, when things do not go as planned, and even when they do, we can remember this amazing young woman, from this small town of Nazareth, who said yes to God’s unexpected plans for her. And when we are faced with our own choices in life as we follow our Lord, we can join with her in our prayerful response: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
To the glory of God. Amen