Do you like unexpected surprises? Whether we like them or not, unexpected surprises occasionally come in unexpected places. It is always a wonderful surprise to find something good in an unexpected place. The Bible is full of this type of experience, and in most cases the unexpected is God.
Luke 1:26-38 tells the story of Mary being unexpectedly confronted by a messenger from heaven. Whatever Mary was doing that day, suddenly the angel Gabriel appeared to her. I am sure Gabriel's sudden appearance bothered her somewhat, but what bothered her the most was his message. According to Luke, it was something on the order of Congratulations! The Lord is very pleased with you.
Mary knew her own national history well enough to know that being the object of God's favor could be a rather uncertain honor from the human point of view. In fact, as Scripture describes it, having God's favor is never a guarantee of sailing smoothly through life. In fact having God's favor most often guarantees just the opposite. Following are some examples:
Noah was judged to be nothing more than a crazy man by his neighbors. They heckled him as he built the great boat God had instructed him to build, and especially when he gathered his family and all the animals.
Moses found favor with God and it got him a forty year assignment of leading a group of complaining people through the desert.
Jeremiah, the prophet, was another of God's favored people. He was hated and rejected by his own people. He was despised so much that the people put him into an abandoned well just to get him out their sight.
Apparently, Mary had good reason to be troubled and uncertain at Gabriel's unexpected announcement. Several lessons become clear in Mary's situation.
1. Our lives are often reshaped by the unexpected intervention of God. The Bible is quite literally the story of how God unexpectedly breaks in to the lives of His people. Isn't that also the wonder of our Christian experience? Unexpectedly, sins are forgiven and guilt is removed. God comes suddenly, and whole new prospects are opened. Dreams are reshaped, lives are recreated, hope is renewed, and faith is filled with live and energy. New opportunities, new directions, and new goals are presented.
2. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Almost exclusively in the Bible, God used ordinary people to do tasks that were extraordinary. Mary appears to be as ordinary as any person you can find in the Bible. We somehow have the notion that when God speaks, His speaking is always accompanied by loud claps of thunder, rushing wind, or bright flashes of lightning. We are always looking for God in the dramatic occurrences of life. But in Mary's encounter, there were no warnings. There were no bright lights, rushing wind, or thunder. The earth didn't tremble or open up underneath Mary's feet. She was just going about her daily affairs when God came to her.
For us, that means that every day there is the possibility that we may be confronted by an angel who has an announcement directly from heaven. What God says may seem impossible or a little crazy. If a messenger appears to us it will likely happen in the midst of our ordinary events of life.
3. God never forces His will upon us. God always asks for our cooperation. Even though God is all powerful, and in Him is concentrated all the power of the universe, God never forces Himself upon us. He always asks. This element of the story of Mary is not seen until the last verse of the text. Until that point, it almost seems that everything is already set and predetermined when Gabriel appears to Mary. Verse 35 says,the Holy Spirit will come upon you the power of the Most High will overshadow you.The message all seems pretty definite and certain. It doesn't appear Mary has much to say at all in it, but to interpret the story that way misses the whole point of the text. The point is, Mary did not have to say yes. All that God proposed and the angel announced were conditional upon Mary's response. Would she say yes or no? Would she cooperate in God's plan, or would she tell him to find someone else? Her response was not coerced. It was purely, simply, and wonderfully voluntary: Here I am, Lord. May it be done to me as you have said.
God calls us all. He gives each of us an opportunity to be a part of He is doing in our world. We may not be called as Mary was called, to bring the Savior into the world. Yet, in another sense, that is precisely what God has called us to do. He asks each of us to bring Jesus into our own personal world. We are called to bring Jesus into the place in which we live and move and find our existence. Like Mary, we can either say yes or no. God won't make us do something that we don't want to do.