Connections 12.24.2017: When the Lord Is With You

Luke 1:26-38

If you ever hear an angel say, “The Lord is with you,” how should you respond?

Let me suggest, “Uh oh!”

In Mary’s case, the angel’s statement “The Lord is with you” meant “The Lord has a really difficult task for you.” I know we tend to pretty the scene up with sweetness and light, but the fact is that the Lord being with Mary was going to lead to some hard times that would begin with ugly talk about her untimely pregnancy and would end with her watching her son die on a cross.

After Gabriel told Mary what was what, she probably anticipated the problems she was going to have at the beginning. But even though he told her that her child would be the Messiah, he didn’t mention the crucifixion part (which was kind of him), and she had no reason to suspect it.

Still, it was clear enough that this was a difficult thing that God was inviting her to participate in.

For the Lord to be with Mary also meant that God would accompany, strengthen, and encourage her. That was good, because for the Lord to be with Mary also meant that she was going to live an incredibly challenging life.

It may be the case that the time we most need the Lord to be with us is when the Lord is already with us. We need God’s help to get us through the difficult life God leads us into.

When I was a child, I thought that having God be with you meant living a safe life. When I became a man, there were times when I wanted that to be so. It is not. If we trust and obey, we’ll live the kind of risky life that Mary (and Jesus) lived. God doesn’t call us to live safe lives. But God does promise to be with us as we live the risky lives that following Jesus leads us to.

I reckon some folks would call it a miracle if God sent an angel to say, “The Lord is with you.”

I think it’s more of a miracle when someone says to God, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

It comes down to this: when God is with you, it’s risky business; when you accept the risky business to which God calls you, God is with you.

And so forth and so on.

Discussion

1. Compare and contrast the conversation between Gabriel and Mary with the one between Gabriel and Zechariah (1:8-20). How are they alike? How are they different? What do the similarities and differences communicate?
2. What does it mean to find “favor with God” (v. 30)? What would it mean for us to find favor with God? If we did, what kinds of things might we expect to happen?
3. Why does Gabriel bring Elizabeth’s pregnancy into the conversation (vv. 36-37)?
4. What do you think Mary heard when the angel said the things he said about the baby she was to bear in verses 32-33?
5. What does it mean for you that the Lord is with you? What should it mean?

Reference Shelf

Luke uses two images for how Mary conceived, images that recur in his narrative. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you” has parallels in Acts 1:8, where it predicts the Pentecost event. There the Spirit descended upon each believer in visible form as flames resting on each of them. One is also reminded of Jesus’ baptism where the Spirit descended visibly upon Jesus. The second metaphor is over-shadowing, which is described quite literally in Acts 5:15—when Peter’s shadow fell on the sick, they were healed. There is likewise a literal, physical overshadowing in Luke’s transfiguration story, when the cloud of God’s presence surrounded Peter, James, and John. One suspects, then, that Luke imagined (although he does not narrate it, so we cannot be certain) that the descent of the Spirit on Mary felt as real to her as the transfiguration cloud did to Peter. Commentators often point to how the Greek word for “over-shadow” appears in Exodus 40:35, when God’s Spirit fills the tabernacle in the desert. It would appear, however, that Luke was thinking more about the experience of Jesus and the early church, as they were filled and empowered by God’s Spirit; Mary’s conception was a prototype for the way God would be manifest in all believers.

Richard B. Vinson, Luke, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008), 39.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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