When God Does the Unexpected
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” vs. 34
Out For A Walk
On a bright Sunday morning late in 18th century London, Robert Robinson was walking despondently down a busy city street in London. The sound of church bells reminded him of years past when his faith in God was strong and he regularly went to church. It had been years since he set foot in a church-years of wandering, disillusionment, and gradual defection from the God he once loved. That love for God- once fiery and passionate- had slowly burned out within him, leaving him dark and cold inside.
Robinson heard the clip-clop, clip-clop of a horse drawn cab approaching behind him. Turning, he lifted his hand to hail the driver. But then he saw that the cab was occupied by a young woman dressed in finery for the Lord’s Day. He tried to wave the driver on, but the woman in the carriage ordered the carriage to be stopped. “Sir, I’d be happy to share this carriage with you,” she said to Robinson, “Are you going to church?” Robinson was about to decline, but then he paused. “Yes,” he said at last. “I am going to church.” He stepped into the carriage and sat down beside the young woman.
As the carriage rolled forward Robert Robinson and the woman introduced themselves. There was a flash of recognition in her eyes when he stated his name. “That’s an interesting coincidence, she said I was just reading a verse by a poet named Robert Robinson.” He took the book, nodding. “Yes, I wrote these words years ago.” The words would one day be set to music and become a great hymn of the faith, familiar to generations of Christians.
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace’
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
His eyes slipped to the bottom of the page where he read:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it-
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
He could barely finish reading the words. “I wrote these words – and I’ve lived these words. “Prone to wander….. prone to leave the God I love.” The woman suddenly understood. “You also wrote, “here’s my heart, O take and seal it.” You can offer your heart again to God, Mr. Robinson. It’s not too late. It wasn’t too late for Robert Robinson. In that moment he turned his heart back to God and walked with him for the rest of his days.”
Life can throw a lot of unknowns at us. Let’s read a story in Luke where that happens.
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
In that story of Robert Robinson I’m sure he never would have thought that hailing a cab could have changed his life but life is unpredictable. I doubt when he penned the words of that famous hymn that he would have ever thought he would turn away from God. There are some things in life that you can be pretty sure about; one is that life can be unpredictable. Sometimes life can throw us lots of curves. Listen again to verse 26:
“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth…” vs. 26
This story has two big unpredictable things happening in it.
- Elizabeth, a woman past the age of bearing children is pregnant.
- Mary, a virgin, is told she is chosen by God and will be pregnant, without sleeping with a man.
Aren’t our lives that way? We go for a check-up at the doctor’s office and news comes back we’re not as healthy as we thought. We go to work and here the bad news that things aren’t as good as we thought and layoffs are coming.
Fear Of the Unknown
A second thing is pretty sure too, that most of us have a fear of the unknown. We like comfort ability and security. When things are unknown, we tend to lean toward fear. Listen to Mary’s words in verse 29:
“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” vs. 29
Think about what happens here, Mary hears and sees an angel and we tend to think that might be good but then we think what if it’s not. Here’s s good story about that.
Ex. An Arab chief tells the story of a spy captured and sentenced to death by a general in the Persian army. This general had the strange custom of giving condemned criminals a choice between the firing squad and “the big, black door.” The moment for execution drew near, and guards brought the spy to the Persian general, “What will it be,” asked the general, “the firing squad or ‘the big, black door?’”The spy hesitated for a long time. Finally he chose the firing squad.A few minutes later, hearing the shots ring out confirming the spy’s execution, the general turned to his aide and said, ‘They always prefer the known to the unknown. People fear what they don’t know. Yet, we gave him a choice.” “What lies beyond the big door?” asked the aide.“Freedom,” replied the general. “I’ve known only a few brave enough to take that door.”The best opportunities in our lives stand behind the forbidding door of the great unknown.
Don McCullough, Solana Beach, California, quoted in Leadership, Winter Quarter, 1992, p57
Listening/Responding For God
So what are we to do, especially when the unexpected happens and we know that this is God working in our life. I think we learn from Mary.
- Be Open To God’s Call
First, we make sure we are open to God’s call. Verse 28:
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” vs. 28
I think we can make the assumption that Mary lived her life in a way that she walked with God so when He called, she was open to His work in her life. This verse gives us clues to that.
- God comes to her
- The angel calls her “highly favored”
- The angel reassures her that “God is with her.”
There is a key to being open to God’s call; we find it in Psalm 25:
“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” Psalm 25:9
The key is humility. When we are humble, we can be open to God’s way instead of insisting on our way.
- God’s Call Can Be Confusing
When we are open to God’s call, it doesn’t always make a lot of sense to us though. Notice Mary’s response to the angel telling her about her becoming pregnant, verse 34:
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” vs. 34
We all come to decision points in our life. Those times are when we here the call of God and have to make a decision. What happens is that the reasoning we go through isn’t always ways to understand. Mary is open to God’s call but how can this happen? How can a woman be pregnant without having slept with a man? It’s a good question and it makes sense to ask how?
This is the point where some make a decision to believe but it is also the point where some people only want to believe and obey only if they understand it. I don’t believe it’s wrong to question God or even try to understand his ways, but there are many times that in rationale just doesn’t fit God’s plan. So some turn away at this point. Peter says this in 1 Peter 1:14-15:
“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” 1 Peter 1:14-15
This goes back to that idea that we fear the unknown. As obedient children, we have to reason that God is bigger than our fear. As Peter says, in obedience, we strive to be holy, which means submitting to God even when it doesn’t make logical sense to us.
- Move Forward In Confidence
If we can trust God, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense to us, that’s where we can begin to move forward in confidence. That’s what Mary did. Verse 38
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. vs. 38
Her response is to trust God and move forward. Remember, she is facing public riducle, probably being cast out of her town for being pregnant out of wedlock, disgracing her family, (who would believe her?) and probably even divorce. This will not be an easy road and it isn’t the joy that we usually associate with being pregnant, but Mary is humble, obedient, and willing to trust God and move forward, I love her response, “I am the Lord’s servant.” She is basically saying, “OK God, I trust you, let’s go!” We can move forward in that same confidence. Here is a good verse to memorize to help you with that, Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
God’s desire; God’s nature, is to love us and care for us and give us the strength to get through anything He has called us to. We can trust His love, His nature, and His call, His strength, His wisdom, and His ways.
Mary, Nazareth Girl
What did you know of ethereal beings
with messages from God?
What did you know of men
when you found yourself with child?
What did you know of babies
you, barely out of childhood yourself?
What did you know of God
that brought you to this stable
blessed among women?
Could it be that you had been ready
for the footsteps
of an angel?
Could it be there are messages for us
If we have the faith to listen?