Everyone is highly favored by God’s gracious giftPublished 11:45am Friday, December 14, 2012
Column: Across the Pastor’s Desk, by the Rev. Nancy Overgaard, chaplain at Thorne Crest Retirement Community
Greetings, you who are highly favored!
Several years ago, I read with a twinge of envy the angel Gabriel’s words to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as recorded in Luke 1:28: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Again, in Luke 1:30, Mary heard the priceless words, “You have found favor with God.” For, wouldn’t we all like to be favored by God, or, be told we have found favor with God?
Yet, as I read and studied further, I realized we have all received uncommon favor from God. In the very next chapter Luke tells us that “a great company of the heavenly host appeared” bringing a gracious message to us all. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests,” (2:13-14). Although the Greek words differ, they are similar enough to both be translated, favor, in English. Both reflect God’s gracious and undeserved favor.
Later, in Luke 4:19, as Jesus began his ministry he proclaimed it the year (or time) of the Lord’s favor, as foretold in Isaiah 61:1-2. Again, the Greek words differ. Yet, again, they are similar enough to be given the same translation in English. As J.E. Hartley wrote in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “When God acts openly and dramatically for the salvation of humanity” through Jesus, the entire era was known as the “time of God’s favor,” the period in history when God extended his undeserved kindness to the entire world.
In the whole New Testament there is only one other use of the precise verb used in Luke 1:28 to speak of Mary as one highly favored by God, one upon whom God had bestowed his grace. That is in Ephesians 1:6 where the Apostle Paul used the same word to speak of the grace or favor freely bestowed on us through Christ.
While use of the verb is sparse, use of the concept of grace pervades the New Testament, especially the writings of the Apostle Paul. As Lewis B. Smedes observed in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, for Paul, grace is “shorthand for the entire event of Jesus Christ and his ministry.” As Paul wrote in his letter to Titus, that grace has been extended to all. “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all…” (2:11).
To be sure, Mary was given an honor and a distinction none of us ever have, or ever will, be given. Yet, we are no less the recipients of God’s grace and favor. As the Apostle John stated it, “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” (John 1:16).
The question is how we respond. As with any gift, God’s gracious and priceless gift can be gratefully received or utterly rejected. Mary could have refused God’s gracious gift to her, just as we can reject his gracious gift to us. She graciously accepted. We are invited to do the same.
Phillips Brooks so beautifully expressed it in the third verse of “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.” May you accept this most gracious and generous of all gifts this Christmas season!