|For Charity Adele (my sister).|
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:30)
The words quoted above were spoken to Mary by the angel Gabriel, who came to announce the birth of Jesus and the inauguration of the messianic era. It strikes me with awe and joyful wonderment to consider that God’s rescue mission of redemption and salvation began with a proclamation of acceptance and divine approval: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” This simple fact should not be missed: that divine favor is the source of the gospel. The story of Jesus’ birth begins with God’s goodwill toward humankind.
Sometimes we can forget that divine favor is at the heart of the gospel message. So often we can look at the world and only see what is wrong. We look at nature and we see the pollution of the atmosphere, the acidification of the oceans, and the razing of majestic rainforests. We think about global climate change and the extinction of species. Or we look at society and we see injustice and callousness toward our fellow human beings. We see the privilege of the rich and the exploitation of strangers. We look upon corruption and incompetence with incomprehension. We look at the Church and we see how disappointing it can be, that in the Church there is just as much idolatry and sexual immorality and justification of violence as there is in the rest of the world, but practiced with an air of self-righteousness that makes it all the more appalling. Then we look at one another and see the faults and flaws and annoying habits in the people we deal with: our co-workers, our family members, our friends. Finally, if we are honest, we look at ourselves and we see our own failings and shortcomings, and, worst of all, our hypocrisy, for deep in our heart of hearts we know that we are no better than the worst specimen of our kind. It is all too easy to be disgusted, to respond with contempt, with disdain, and in anger.
We know that things are not right and we long for God to put them right. We want judgement. We want punishment. We want revenge. We want all those stupid, wicked, blasphemous people to see how wrong they have been. We want them to feel that pain, the frustration, the disappointment, the shame we have been made to suffer.
Our feelings of hurt and anger are justified. The world is broken and life is unfair. But it is part of the great good news of the gospel to know that God’s response to the human condition is not one of anger or rejection, but of favor. God set his rescue mission into motion because when God looked upon us he found something there to love, something worth saving. The gospel does not begin with divine wrath or rejection, it begins with a proclamation of God’s favor for all humankind.
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” It would be Jesus’ task to proclaim the LORD’s favor to the entire house of Israel, to share the good news that God is receiving everyone back again: men and women, high and low, children and elders, pure or impure, the simple and the wise, the observant and the unobservant, the faithful and the unfaithful, too. Everyone was welcome to join the Kingdom of God. And yet the open invitation began with the proclamation of favor to just one individual, a young woman of Galilee whom we call Mary. If so great a movement could begin with just one person receiving the gift of divine favor, how much more when we hear and believe that God’s favor includes each of us as well?