I read that paragraph again and again,
And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Luke 2:28-30)
That word “favor” puzzled me. We know about favor: someone paid for my coffee at Starbucks, someone put gas in my car, someone gave me a house. Post it on Facebook and there will surely be cryptic comments: Favor, man. The favors are as varied as the people reporting them and the assumption is that God must really love them special. I don’t doubt that He does, but I had two questions: Why does no one ever proclaim it “favor” when unfortunate things happen, like missing a plane? What if favors are sprinkled all through life and they don’t always feel good? Could it be that our short-sightedness is blinding us to loads of flat-out-favors because we won’t acknowledge them unless they look pretty? (I know, that’s three, but the last one is purely rhetorical.)
I got out some study materials and looked up every single reference to “favor” or words related to it in the Bible. Then I wrote them down with their meanings and roots and cross referenced them. I am not sure what I was looking for… maybe some huge oversight in our current use of the term so that I could challenge our narrow ideas. But there it was, “bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior… acceptance… good deed… merciful kindness.” There are lots of references to this sort of favor is in the Old Testament. David especially used the word a lot to describe the unique blessings of the righteous. Sometimes it is translated as “acceptance”. However, in the New Testament there is only lowly little Mary receiving favor from God. The word seems to change to “grace”, which is a term I like a lot better. I think it’s interesting that our prosperity-loving culture picks up an OT term and flings it around so recklessly.
Doubtless the person who missed his plane on 911 realized what a mercy that was just a few hours after the initial frustration. And those stories of people having flat tires that keep them grounded safely away from a pile-up at the intersection? What looks like disaster turns out to be favor: pure, undeserved grace.
Look at little Mary again. She was greeted with “the Lord is with you.” That was the whole foundation of her favor. It was what enabled her to move beyond being “greatly troubled” to saying, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” This is a very strange teen pregnancy we are talking about. It had to be excruciating to have that conversation with her fiancee. There was a terrible donkey ride in her third trimester and fleeing in the dark of night from an angry tyrant. Then there was the prophecy of Simeon about a sword piercing her heart. And remember how Mary had all these things she hid in her heart as her son was growing up? Then there was broken weeping at the foot of her son’s cross as He died. She did not have the book of Luke to read or the whole picture to gaze at. She just had promises and the Spirit of God pouring grace onto her.
It wasn’t all free lattes and fuzzy slippers for Mary. I take a leap of fancy here and assume that she would hardly understand our narrow interpretation of how we can tell that God loves us. Someday I want to talk with Mary, but for now, I want to be like her. I want to live richly in the fact that “the Lord is with me” and that is favor, no matter what the circumstances. I want to rest in that.
Have you found
favor grace recently? What did it look like for you?