Mary! Highly Favored

“Become a Christian and your life will be free of pain and trouble, and full of cash, cell phone, crib and car.” This mind-set is often advanced by those preaching a version of the “prosperity gospel” in many of our churches.  This teaching suggests that when you become a Christian, comfort, safety, and relief are sure to follow.  We rarely hear messages calling us to embrace the Cross.  When Jesus was preparing his disciples for the task of worldwide evangelism he reminded them that persecution would accompany their mission.  He said, “and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matt. 10:18).  Just as he foretold, early church leaders would be called before Jewish officials (Acts 4:1-22), secular authorities of Israel (Acts 12:1-4), and Rome (Acts 14:5). Things have changed.  Christians in Southern Africa are no longer dragged before the governors, but invited.  Those who experience this “privilege” do not often see this as an opportunity to bear witness to the justice and righteousness of God, but rather as a message from the angel Gabriel saying, “Greetings you, who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

To be “highly favored” meant something different to the Virgin Mary.  In her situation it meant becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit, putting her reputation and the reputation of her family at risk.  It meant the possibility of being left by her fiancée as well as being ostracized from her community.  She could have been left to beg for her survival or stoned for her obedience to God.   In the face of terrible possibilities the young girl said, “I am the Lord‘s servant … May it be to me as you have said.” Mary responded in this manner without being fully aware of the incredible role she would play in the story of redemption.  What she did know, was that God had asked her to serve Him, and she willingly obeyed.

When we preach a gospel that is committed to safety, protection, and prosperity, without emphasizing the tremendous cost involved in following Jesus, we develop disciples who are ill prepared to leave the walls of the church to transform the world.   The apostle Paul said “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted (2Timithy 3:12).”  Very few in our churches understand that “in the world you will have tribulation,” and sadly, we as Pastors are to blame for the absence of this message from our teaching.  We are very quick to encourage people to come to Christ that they may be saved, but we rarely echo the words of Christ, “for whoever wants to save his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

Through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, all those who have received Him are highly favored.  This is good news and a terrifying responsibility.  Even when the outcome is potentially disastrous, we need to be willing to lay down our life for Christ.  As we celebrate the gift of God to us, even our Lord Jesus Christ, may we also remember that following Him means “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Phil: 3:10).  This Christmas, as we share presents and thank God for His priceless gift to us, may we remember that our calling will demand that we make choices that will put ourselves and those we love at risk, “but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b).  In this, we can look to Christ and if we think Jesus is God and we are not, then let Mary be an inspiration to us.

Lawrence Temfwe