2Sam 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Rom 16:25-27; Lk 1:26-38

In our lives, we experience many surprises. Surprises come in many forms and guises. Some good, some borderline amazing, some awful, some tragic, some hilarious. Surprises are woven through the very fabric of all our lives. They await each one of us at unexpected and unpredictable junctures.

Today’s gospel text focuses on one of the greatest surprises that ever was—the surprise that took place when an angel, by the name of Gabriel, appeared to a young teenager by the name of Mary. God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favoured woman! The Lord is with you!”

It is obvious that Mary was surprised by the angel. Let us take a look at God’s surprises in this familiar and wonderfully simple passage. Imagine Mary’s life! It was simple. As with most women of her age, she was engaged to be married. Certainly, it was a properly arranged marriage. Joseph would have already paid some kind of dowry as a way of compensating Mary’s father for his loss. And even though things were different then from what we have today, Mary probably dreamt often of her marriage and the possibilities of motherhood. This surprising visit from the Lord was not what Mary was expecting or seeking in her life. Mary was certainly scared and confused.

You can imagine that when the angel appeared, Mary was indeed frightened. She had been caught off guard. Her first thought would probably have been that she was about to die. And to be honest, you and I would probably think the same thing. But God sent Gabriel to Mary because he had a job for her to do. He wanted Mary to be the MOTHER OF THE MESSIAH.

Sometimes it is easy to glamorize what happened to Mary. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. (Luke 1:30-34)

We have a tendency to think that when Mary heard these words of the angel, she said, “Wow, Cool!” Far from it! Perhaps, Mary had no real idea of what she was being asked to do. Mary could not have been more than a mere girl when the annunciation took place—about fifteen years old. She could not have understood the full import of the angel’s message. How do you become a mother “without knowing a man”? The angel’s explanation could not have meant much to her. For one thing, conception through the power of the Holy Spirit was totally unheard of in the entire history of her people.

There was also the risk factor. She was being asked to risk her engagement. She was risking the dowry paid to her father, Joachim. She was risking being cast away and disowned by her father and becoming a disgrace to her family. Furthermore, in those days, among the Jews, the penalty for pregnancy outside wedlock was stoning to death. Therefore, she ran the dangerous risk of being stoned to death, for accepting to give birth to the “Son of the Most High”, a thing no one had ever done. Who would buy Mary’s story of the Holy Spirit being responsible for her pregnancy? Certainly not her parents, much less her fiancé, Joseph, and least of all her townspeople.

It is not likely that an angel appears to us to announce some great thing that God wants us to do. But God often surprises us in many ways. His surprises come at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. And Christmas is a prime time for surprises. Some of the surprises are wonderful: an unexpected gift, an unanticipated opportunity, a renewed friendship, great news hidden in a Christmas package, etc. Some surprises are painful. These may include having to let go of someone we love, a sudden change of plans, an illness or other trying circumstance made more difficult by the contrast of the celebrations that are organized around you and in your neighbourhood, bad news from family and home. In fact. some of these surprises are difficult to comprehend.

God does not always ask us to do easy things either. GOD ASKS US TO DO THINGS THAT WE CANNOT DO ON OUR OWN SO, THAT WE WILL HAVE TO TRUST HIM. HE ASKS US FOR GREAT THINGS SO THAT HE MAY GET THE GLORY. A great writer once said, “Jesus Christ came not to make life easy but to make men great.”

William Barclay, a biblical scholar, writes: “To be chosen by God so often means at one and the same time a crown of joy and cross of sorrow. The piercing truth is that God does not choose a person for ease and comfort and selfish joy but for a task that will take all that head and heart and hand can bring to it. God chooses a man in order to use him. When that is realized, the sorrows and hardships that serving God may bring are not matters for lamentation; they are our glory, for all is suffered for God.” There are lots of things God brings to our lives that we do not understand. There are lots of surprises that bring PAIN, in addition to OPPORTUNITY. Many times, we have no idea of what God is doing in our lives. But when we are in doubt, it is always wise to TRUST GOD.

This Mary’s response to the Lord’s surprise was: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.” What a remarkable attitude that Mary had! In the midst of all these risks, Mary pronounces her “fiat”. She was willing to follow the Lord no matter how difficult the situation might be. And that is the lesson that you and I need to apply to our lives. No matter what the circumstance, it is always wisest to trust the Lord. This is what Mary was saying in her response to God’s surprise: “Whatever the Lord wants and chooses for me is fine”. Somewhere behind her mind, she must have been convinced that the Lord would take care of the situation, and not allow her to come to any harm. And it turned out that her faith was not misplaced. God did take care of the situation with the annunciation to Joseph at a later date (Remember, there two Annunciation in the Gospel of Luke: one to Mary and another to Joseph—(Lk 1:26-37 & Matt 1:20-24 respectively). For sure, in the end, Mary did not come to any harm.

We can learn a lot from Mary. There are many things that come into our lives that we do not understand and that are extremely difficult. But if that is the Father’s plan for us, then we should willingly seek to honour him in that situation.

In any case, it is not just Mary. A cursory look through the Bible will reveal many characters who had to let go of many things out of faith in a surprising promise of God. Think of Abraham—leaving his homeland and even sacrificing his son. Think of Moses leading his people of Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land with very little resources. Think of the surprise promise that God makes to King David, through the Prophet Nathan, in the 1st Reading of today (2Sam 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a). (List many others…) You would notice how different this kind of faith is from the faith we frequently see around us today. Quite often, we tend to proclaim faith when things are enjoyable and going well. But when things get tough we walk away and say, “It didn’t work.” Such a reaction portrays persons who are not looking for a personal relationship with God. It betrays someone simply looking for A BUSINESS PARTNER in GOD!

Here are some suggestions on how we can move toward the faith of Mary. In all the surprises of life,

a) Remember God’s Character. Recall who God is and what He is like. Remind yourself that God is not arbitrary and reckless. God is Holy, Righteous, Wise, Good, Merciful, and Loving.

b) Remember God’s Track Record. Think back to how God has helped you in the past. Remember the tough times you came through. Remember the things you learned and how you have grown from the difficult and surprising times of the past.

c) Remember God’s Gift of His Son. Mary, of course, did not have the advantage of this knowledge that we have. When we wonder whether or not God is trustworthy, our first thought should be THE CROSS. When we recognize what Christ has done for us on the cross, then it should be easier for us to trust him.

Perhaps the greatest surprise at Christmas is the declaration that God loves us. Recall God’s first words to Mary: “Greetings to you who are highly favoured!” These may have been the most surprising words of all. They are certainly surprising words to many people. God has given his gift and some of us are tempted to toss it aside, seemingly unaware of the tremendous gift he has pour on our laps. We may be unaware of how much God loves and favours us.

The greatest surprise this Christmas may be the simple message that “You are loved by God.” Yes, you! God is aware of our failures but he still sent his Son, Jesus Christ, anyway. He knows of our rebellious and sinful ways, but he still reaches out his hand in love. He has seen us walk away from him countless times, but he still pursues us in love. He also knows how we have been hurt, yet he wants to make us whole again. Indeed, it may be mysterious that the God of the universe would notice and love each one of individually. That is why during this season of Christmas we are called to a mood of thanksgiving. Let us begin our Christmas celebration by welcoming God’s enormous love, generosity and forgiveness.

We do not know what surprises are in store for us this Christmas. Some of the surprises may bite; some may make us jump for joy; some may take us down uncharted paths; still others may stretch us in ways that we never imagined. But each surprise comes from the hand of the Father who loves us. And it is our prayer that we respond in the words of Mary: “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.” If we respond in that way, who knows, maybe God’s surprises in our live will change the world. And if not the world, at least, they may certainly change us.

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