December 8, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 1:26-29 (NRSV)
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
The fact that God is with us sounds wonderful. But the example of Mary in the Gospel of Luke reminds us that God isn’t with us only to comfort us. God is present in our lives also to empower us and to call us into the work of the kingdom. Even as Mary pondered the angel’s greeting, “The Lord is with you,” so ought we to consider what it means that God is present in our lives today.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
If you worship in a liturgical church, chances are you’re familiar with the greeting, “The Lord be with you.” When the worship leader, often a priest, says this, worshipers respond with “And also with you” or “And with your Spirit.” No matter the language, when we hear someone say, “The Lord be with you,” we receive this as a positive greeting, a blessing. It sounds like a good thing. Who wouldn’t want the Lord to be with them?
Thus, what we read in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke may seem a bit curious. After recounting the conception of John the Baptist and the waiting of his mother, Elizabeth, Luke moves to the story of Mary. She was a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph (Luke 1:27). One day, the angel Gabriel, the same angel who had shocked Zechariah with news about his wife’s imminent pregnancy, appeared to Mary. He said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (1:28). Mary wasn’t instantly comforted or encouraged by these words. Luke writes, “But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (1:29). The Greek verb translated here as “perplexed” can also mean “troubled,” as in the KJV, NIV, and ESV translations. Mary was not only mentally confused, but also emotionally concerned, perhaps even worried.
Why? Why didn’t Mary receive the angel’s greeting as obvious good news? Why didn’t she think with happy reassurance, “Oh, the Lord is with me. That’s wonderful!” Luke doesn’t tell us much about what Mary was thinking and feeling. We know that she was perplexed (or concerned, or troubled). We also know that she “pondered” what the angel’s greeting might mean.
I have a hunch about Mary’s response of perplexity and concern. I think Mary knew that God’s presence is both comforting and disturbing, both calming and unsettling. Mary would have known, for example, what happened to Moses when God was with him at the burning bush. She might well have intuited that God was about to ask her to do something significant, something disruptive, something that would change the course of her life.
As the story unfolds, we see that Mary was right to be perplexed. God was about to turn her life upside down. But, before we jump ahead in the narrative, I want to reflect with you upon two profound truths.
First, the Lord is with you. That’s right, with you! Of course, God is everywhere in a way. But if you have put your trust in Christ, then God is with you in a distinct and intimate way. The very Spirit of God dwells within you, giving you the peace and joy of God. This is wonderful news, to be sure. But it’s not the whole story.
Second, the Lord is with you, not only to comfort you, but also to enlist you in the work of the kingdom. The same Spirit who comforts you is the one who empowers you for ministry. The Spirit who comforts you also leads you into situations that are not necessarily comfortable. If you don’t believe me, just read the Book of Acts.
In the season of Advent, we prepare our hearts to make room for God in a new way. We get in touch with our longing for God. We want God to be with us. Yes! That’s the joy of Christmas: Emmanuel, God with us. Yet, as we get ready to welcome God into our lives, we should remember that God isn’t present simply to comfort and reassure us. God is with us also to empower us, to send us out into the world as ambassadors of Christ. No matter where we are, God is with us. And no matter where we are, God’s Spirit is within us so that we might do God’s work by God’s own power.
When it comes to God’s being with us, like Mary, we ought to ponder what this means.
When in your life have you sensed God’s presence in a powerful way?
How did you respond to this experience? What difference did it make in your life?
What do you think God wants to do through you in the world?
What might God want to do through you today?
As you begin the day (or tomorrow, if you’re reading this in the evening), acknowledge God’s presence with you. Tell God that you are available to be used for the work of the kingdom today. Then, be ready.
Gracious God, thank you for coming among us in Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Thank you for being with us today through the presence of your Spirit. Thank you for the promise that you will never leave us or forsake us.
Help me, O God, to be more aware of your presence each day. As this happens, may I be available to you, to do your will in whatever situation I find myself. May your presence with me give me confidence, power, and grace to serve others in your name. Amen.
P.S. from Mark
If you’re like me, even now you’re trying to figure out what you’ll get your family and friends for Christmas. I have a suggestion for you. As you know, my De Pree Center colleague Michaela O’Donnell has recently published a wonderful new book, Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World. You’ll remember Michaela from the moving set of devotions she wrote in November, based on the parable of the Good Samaritan. I found many things helpful in Michaela’s book, like her ingenious way of talking about calling. Make Work Matter is relevant to all ages, even to third third folk like me. But this book would be especially beneficial to people in vocational transition. I’m thinking in particular of people aged 18 to 35. So, if you’re trying to find the perfect Christmas present for someone in this age bracket, I highly recommend Make Work Matter. You can find out more and order it here.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Through the Year with Hobbits and Hope
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.