In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. – Luke 1:26-29
Childlike faith takes things at face value. What God says, childlike faith embraces with little question. We see this regularly in our grandchildren as well as in the children of our Early Childhood Center at St. John. These children always know the correct answer: “Jesus.” They know that they are sinners and that Jesus saved them from their sins. They know that they should pray, and share, and do good. Those things please God; this they know.
As we grow older we must hold to childlike faith while acknowledging the deeper nuances of life, God, and faith itself. An easy-answer superficial belief will not sustain us in the face of some of life’s harsh realities. Pushed to its extreme such an attitude becomes gullibility and opens us to being taken advantage of. As we grow older, furthermore, we realize that there are grave implications to the fact that we are sinners. We more deeply appreciate that prayer is more than merely rehearsing our needs to God. We gain insight into some of the nuances of what it means to do good, share, and trust God.
This, I believe, is what Mary displays here: a deeper understanding coupled with an innocent faith – but not a dangerous gullibility. I see this in Mary’s response to the angel. She seems not to be troubled by the appearance of the angel, but by his greeting. The words are simple and good: she is “greatly favored; the Lord is with her.” On the surface these words are pure and good. But Mary is perceptive; she realizes that there is more to these words than the simple meanings…or at least she suspects so.
God delights when we receive his word and trust him, believing his promises and setting our moral compass on the truth he reveals to us. Mary will do just that. But she will not believe these words without probing the depth of their meaning. God’s favor is a good thing. His presence is a great blessing. But to whom much is given, much is required.
Perhaps this truth will shape our faith as we examine our own hearts, motives and prayers. We do well to ask for God’s blessings. We do better to discern as best we can how we are to steward those blessings for which we ask. Is a new job simply a source of more income and greater respect? It may be also a greater burden of responsibility, and an opportunity to do good for others.
What promise is God laying on your heart, and how might you most fully embrace the deeper gifts of his grace?