Mercy and Favor: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:39-55


"His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation." 


Mercy and Favor

WHEN MARY RECEIVED THE EARTH-SHATTERING (PERHAPS EVEN DAUNTING) NEWS THAT SHE WOULD BE GIVING BIRTH TO THE SON OF GOD, SHE FELT FAVORED. I find that reaction fascinating. Although the announcement carried some potentially serious negative consequences, not the least of which was public humiliation, Mary embraced the news. Many of us might have responded more like Moses did when God’s call came from the burning bush. Miracles and wonders notwithstanding, five times Moses tried to persuade God that there was a better choice than himself for the task at hand. It seems Moses was less than excited to be favored by God.

The scriptural account of Christ’s birth, and specifically Mary’s reaction to it in today’s passage, raises an intriguing question. “Do we still feel favored by God today?” In a world where dangers of all kinds lurk just around the corner, Mary’s song comes as a timely reminder. As God’s creation, we live under the all-encompassing umbrella of God’s favor. The incarnate God did not just visit Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah and the shepherds. In His great mercy, He also visits each of us.

When we embrace God’s mercy and favor, He transforms us in important ways. We become humble, we become encouragers, and we become people of praise. Humility, however, must be combined with a firm belief that God’s power can overcome our shortcomings. Mary was convinced; Moses was not. In Hannah Hurnard’s powerful spiritual allegory “Hind’s Feet in High Places,” the protagonist Much-Afraid speaks to the Chief Shepherd on her journey to the Kingdom of Love. “It’s a wonder you even bother with me. I wonder if you’ll ever be able to get me there.” Feeling favored, but not empowered.

God’s favor also compels us to encourage others and praise God. Mary goes directly to Elizabeth, who feels favored by her visit. And why not? She is the first to hear Mary’s magnificent song recounting some of God’s faithfulness to the nation of Israel. Reflecting on God’s faithfulness in our own lives reminds each of us of God’s favor.

Our daughter was three years old when we developed a nightly ritual. If it was my turn to put her to bed, as I was leaving the room, she would sit up and say, “Tell mommy I love her.”

This particular night we had been out especially late and she had dozed off in the car. Although she woke up briefly as I carried her upstairs to her bedroom, I was sure she had fallen back to sleep as I tucked her in. But just as I got to the door, she sat up, looked me right in the eyes and said, “Tell mommy she loves me.” Her briefly confused look quickly became one of satisfaction and she laid back down and fell asleep. I’ll never forget that look—the look of an innocent mistake revealing a profound truth. “Tell mommy she loves me.” Feeling favored is indeed a wonderful thing.

The incredibly good news this Advent season is that God favors us. Perhaps this Christmas—a time when we are so aware of God’s love for us—we ought to tell God we FEEL LOVED.

-Doug Miller, Ph.D., professor of applied health science and employee wellness director