In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 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. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.Luke 1:26-33, ESV
The narrative quickly turns our attention to a second angelic encounter. Gabriel had visited the holy city of Jerusalem about six months ago, and now the angel is sent to a small town of ill repute (John 1:46). The contrast is interesting because we often imagine God being able to do wonderful things with good people in good places. However, The truth is that God is able to do wonderful things with anyone He chooses despite their limited circumstances. In fact, there is a pattern of God choosing the most unlikely people and transforming them by His grace to accomplish incredible things through them. For example; the name David is used in Luke 1:27. Remember that David wasn’t always a king. As a young man, David was the youngest of his brothers and seemingly thought to have been the least likely to succeed (1 Sam 16:10-11). He was a lowly shepherd boy. Yet, God chose to bestow His grace upon that unlikely boy and transform him into a man that history would never forget.
Nazareth was a small town on the outskirts of Galilee. It was not likely to be a place that history would never forget, but God chose a young virgin named Mary from Nazareth to be the mother of the Messiah. Nazareth was an unlikely place for an angel to visit, and Mary was an unlikely person to entertain such a visitor. God never makes mistakes, though it seems that Mary might have thought Gabriel had found the wrong woman. Why would God want her? Mary was not a woman of wealth or influence, but she was a pious woman. So then, was she chosen because of her piety? No. Certainly not. God doesn’t choose people on the basis of their merits or moral goodness. God’s choices are gracious. He works in and through people because of His goodness and not theirs. Why Nazareth? Why Mary? Why anybody? This is a great mystery, but any answer that adds merit to grace simply will not do.
I Don’t See Anyone…
In Gabriel’s address to the young virgin from Nazareth, he called her the one whom God has bestowed special favor (grace) upon and emphasized “God is with you”. I imagine this young woman reeling in her mind trying to process the scene. Where was God in all this? Gabriel locates God’s presence to be with the young woman. Has God’s presence come to be with her in these last moments? I think God was always with her. God had been providentially guiding this young woman’s life since before she was born. Gabriel did not say, God, will be with you. He didn’t say God may be with you. Gabriel said, “God is with you”. Mary had been walking in the grace of God her entire life, but she had never actually seen God.
There is an old Baptist catechism named very simply, “A Catechism for Boys and Girls” that has been very useful as my wife and I disciple our three small children. The ninth catechism question asks, “Who is God?” and the reply is, “God is a Spirit, and does not have a body like men.” John 4:24 is one Scriptural text to help ground this answer. Because God is a Spirit, He cannot be discerned by the bodily senses. God has been with Mary her entire life, and she has very likely not fully realized God’s presence in her everyday life. Yet, the truth of His abiding presence remains.
We also need to be reminded that God is with us. Christian, have you believed in the Lord Jesus Christ? Yes? Being saved by grace through faith doesn’t only secure the presence of God in your life for the future. No, no, no. God’s presence isn’t only the blessing of your eschatological hope. The Apostle Paul wrote, “when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (Eph 1:13-14).” God is with us every day. This truth is life-changing when we apply it. Let these words sink in. God is (right now) with you. Let that conviction fuel your life. You can’t see God, and you can’t feel God, but you can perceive Him by faith. Walk by faith. Live every day with this faith, and let the presence of God change you.