Life forever changed

More than 2000 years ago, God sent the angel Gabriel to a young girl in the town of Nazareth to tell her that she had been chosen by God to be the mother of His Son. The story in Luke 1 is filled with miracles: an angel appearing to Mary, a baby conceived simply by the power of the Holy Spirit, conceived in a young woman who is still a virgin; her cousin Elizabeth conceives a child in her old age. But I think there’s another miracle here that we tend to overlook—it’s Mary’s response to the angel.

We know very little about Mary. She’s a teenaged girl engaged to be married to, as far as we can tell, the man of her dreams. She might have been as young as 13 o 14, as girls often married very young in ancient Israel. Once a couple became engaged, the husband-to-be would have to prepare a place for the couple to live and be sure that he was able to support a family before the wedding could take place. Mary and Joseph were surely making lots of plans for their life together—plans that certainly did not include a pre-wedding pregnancy.

It is in the midst of all this that the angel Gabriel shows up to tell Mary the plan that God has for her life—a plan that is completely different from Mary’s. And instantly, all her plans are destroyed. Because this would change everything.  

She must have had a thousand questions running through her mind. What would Joseph say? Would he still want to marry her? What would happen to her if he didn’t? What would her parents say? Would anyone even believe her? Yet the only question she asks is, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34).

“And the angel answered her, ‘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 called holy—the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35).

Gabriel’s answer doesn’t really seem to make things much clearer—what does it even mean to have “the power of the Most High overshadow you”? When would it happen? Would she even know that it had happened?

But Mary’s reply is simply, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your world” (Luke 1:38).

Let it be.

And in these words, we learn a lot more about this young woman. We learn that she has an amazing faith. And an amazing relationship with the Lord—because her response to the angel indicates a total trust in God.

We can be pretty sure that whatever she was doing before that day when the angel showed up, it wasn’t praying that God would make her the mother of His Son.  It wasn’t praying that God would turn her life upside down and destroy her reputation. It wasn’t praying that her firstborn son would be born in a barn.

And yet when the angel came and told her that God had chosen her to be the mother of His Son, she simply said, “Let it be.”

When Mary spoke those words, she surely had no idea just how her life would be forever changed. She might have been imagining palaces and great riches when the angel Gabriel told her that the child she would bear, the child who would be called the “Son of the Most High” would “be given the throne of his father David.” When she was told that “he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). At the same time, she had to know that becoming pregnant before marriage would destroy her reputation forever.

And while she had probably not been praying for any of these things to happen, she might have been praying, “Let it be.” She might have been praying regularly, “Lord, let it be to me according to your word.”

Because the angel Gabriel did tell her that she had “found favor with God.” What does it mean to find favor with God? We find favor with God when we delight Him. When we’re living in a way that is pleasing to Him—when we’re open to His work in our lives.

In the passage that Angie read earlier, the author of the letter to the Hebrews gives us these beautiful words spoken by Jesus to His Father in heaven: “I have come to do your will, O God”—twice Jesus says this. Although God’s will is that Jesus will sacrifice Himself on the cross, His will is NOT—and never has been—that we make sacrifices to Him or bring offerings to Him simply because the law commands it.

We do not find favor with God by keeping His law perfectly—we find favor with God when we love Him above all else. What pleases God is our obedience to Him. Because it is in obedience that we demonstrate the love that we have for Him.

God took far greater pleasure in the surrendered life of One eager to do His will than He took in all the sacrifices and offerings ever brought before Him.

What God wants from us is to hear the words spoken by Mary to the angel: “Let it be.”

“I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”

In the day that God brought the people out of Egypt, He gave no instructions about sacrifices until He had first issued this prior command: “Obey My voice.” In other words, sacrifice is no substitute for obedience. No offering is acceptable to God if it is not an expression of loving devotion. God cannot be bought by gifts.

Yes, it was God Himself who instigated the sacrificial system of the OT. But in themselves, sacrifices never brought any pleasure to God—their value was in what they represented, love for the Creator.

When we say, “Let it be,” when we say “Let it be according to Your will, O Lord,” what we’re really saying is, “Let it NOT be according to my will.”

We’re saying that we understand that we have been created by God for a purpose. A purpose that goes all the way back to creation, all the way back to the plans that God had from the very beginning. None of us are here by accident—and all of us are part of God’s plan. A plan so great and so large that we can never fully understand it from our human perspective. But we can be sure that each one of us has a part to play in His plan.

In the very beginning in the book of Genesis, as soon as Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring: he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

And then God sacrificed the first animal when “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).

God was already planning to send His Son to die for us, to be the final sacrifice. And when the time was right for that to happen, He didn’t just look around to try to find a suitable candidate to be the mother of Jesus. Because He had already created Mary—created her for the purpose of becoming the mother of the Son of God. And somehow, some way, Mary understood that God had a purpose for her—a purpose that involved serving God.

In two places in the Old Testament (Exodus 21:6 and Deuteronomy 15:17), God speaks to Moses about slaves. God reminds the Israelite people that they were slaves in the land of Egypt until they were redeemed by the Lord God. He says, “When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. … But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free, then his master shall bring him to God … and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever” (Exodus 21:2-6).

God is giving the Israelite people a picture of life with the Lord—all of us are created for a purpose. And that purpose is to serve God. To know God, to really know the One true God, is to love Him. And so as we serve Him, as we grow in relationship to Him, His hope is that we will come to love Him. And that because we love our master, we will have no desire to be released from His service.  

Jesus loved and trusted the Father so completely that He could do nothing other than the Father’s will. And it would appear that His mother Mary also loved and trusted the Lord God. Trusted Him enough to say, “Let it be.”

Trusted Him enough to somehow believe that the plans God had for her were better than the plans that she had for her. That even though the plan presented to her by the angel Gabriel were far beyond her understanding, she could trust in her Lord.

The angel Gabriel also told Mary that her “relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son,” (Luke 1:36), so “Mary arose and went with haste” to visit Elizabeth, who was indeed visibly pregnant. When the baby in Elizabeth’s womb “leaped for joy” at the sound of Mary’s voice, Mary seems to be overcome with emotion and she cries out this amazing song of praise:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior …”

And so on this last Sunday of Advent, as we have been crying out, “Come, Lord Jesus,” throughout this time of preparation, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior tomorrow, do we trust Him enough to say, “Let it be”?

God is trustworthy. And yet all too often we respond to God the way Zechariah did—with doubt. “How can this be?” “What kind of proof, God, can you give me?” “How do I know this won’t be bad for me?”

How often do we simply say, “No, Lord. That’s not what I want to do”? Because what we really want is to be in charge. Because we don’t really believe that God’s plans are better than our plans. That His plans will bless us. That His plans will give us a life far beyond anything we could ever have imagined.

We so often think that our plans are so much better than anything God might come up with for us—a recent survey found that an astonishing majority of Christians believe that if they really give their lives over to God, His plan for them will be to send them to Africa to be a missionary.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what are we missing when we hang on so tightly to our plans—our plans for our lives, our plans for this church? What opportunities, what blessings have we missed by not allowing ourselves to truly trust in our great and glorious God?

C. S. Lewis in his book The Weight of Glory, writes, “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”

“We are far too easily pleased,” Lewis wrote. He goes on:

“The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredibly and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination of standing before God, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God … to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness … to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But it is so.”

We are far too easily pleased when we long finally for anything less than God, anything less than being used by Him to do His will in whatever way He wishes.

We are far too easily pleased any time we refuse to say to Him, “Let it be.” “Let it be according to your will.”

Mary’s life was far from easy. Her reputation was ruined. She did have to give birth to the Son of God in a stable with only Joseph present to assist. She did have to flee to Egypt as a refugee. But Mary knew the glory of not only serving God according to His will—she gave birth to His Son. She is “blessed among women,” blessed—this is important—because she believed. “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her form the Lord” (Luke 1:45). Blessed because she simply believed that God would do what He said He would do.

“Let it be.” Do you have this kind of trust in the goodness and greatness of God? Do we? And are we willing, both individually and as a congregation, to trust Him completely in all things? No matter how difficult those things might be? No matter how much we think we know what’s best for us? No matter how much we might believe that God has created us simply to enjoy a comfortable life with our family?

Our Creator has written on our hearts not only to enjoy eternity as a spectator in His majestic stadium, watching happily from the bleachers, but being brought onto the field, given a jersey, and adopted as a full member of His team, to live in His acceptance and embrace. We never become God, but we do become one with Him in His Son and our glad and joyful conformity to Jesus.

What might we do, what might we accomplish, how might we move God’s kingdom forward in ways far beyond anything we can imagine if we simply said, “Let it be, Lord. Let it be”?

George Mueller was a powerful man of faith who lived in the 19th century. He receives more than two million dollars to fund the orphanages he founded in England without ever advertising or even asking anyone for money. Every penny came as an answer to prayer.

Mueller would pray and God would tell him what to do; he’d pray some more and God would bring whatever provision was needed. Once Mueller was on a ship traveling from England to Quebec, when the ship ran into a heavy bank of fog. Mueller found the captain and told him that he needed to be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon. The captain said it was impossible.

Mueller, who knew the words of the angel Gabriel spoken to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God,” told the captain they needed to pray. The captain asked him if he knew how dense the fog was and Mueller replied, “No. My eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God who controls every circumstance of my life.” He said, “If your ship cannot get me to Quebec by Saturday, then God will find some other way, because I have never broken an engagement in 57 years and God will not let me break this one.” He then got down on his knees and prayed a simple prayer.

Then he told the captain, “As you do not believe He will answer, and as I believe He has, there is no need for you to pray about it. I have known my Lord for 57 years and there has never been a single day when I failed to get an audience with the King. Open the door, captain, and you will find the fog has gone.”

The captain opened the door and discovered that, indeed, the fog had lifted. George Mueller kept his promised engagement in Quebec on Saturday afternoon.

This is trust. This is what is possible when we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus instead of on our problems. This is what could begin to happen right here if we began to recognize that we are called here as a people not just to gather comfortably and talk about Jesus—but to go out into the world as part of His great team? To do whatever He has prepared for us? To be open to considering that maybe where we are isn’t where He wants us.

Mary understood that God owes her nothing. She owes God everything.

God owes me nothing. He owes you nothing. We owe Him everything.

Let us pray.