Advent has begun, and young Mary is a source of inspiration for me this season because of her example of Advent worship. Heralding the page turn on the Christian year, Advent offers a time of expectancy and waiting. It is designed to cultivate our awareness of God’s actions—past, present, and future. We anticipate the birth of the Christ child, and also look ahead to when He will return once and for all to inaugurate His Kingdom. In Advent we hear the prophecies of the Messiah’s first coming as addressed to us, people who wait for the second coming.
All around us, we are surrounded with messages that tell us Christmas is already here; we don’t have to wait for it. It’s in the stores, the restaurants, it’s on the radio and the TV, it’s online, and it’s already ringing in our homes. We live very much in a “have it when you want it” culture, and we love to have Christmas NOW. But with the turkey gone, and Black Friday now behind you, dear reader, I am asking you to consider pausing a little longer before diving full-on into Christmas. It’s not so much about the trees, the music, or the lights as it is about having the perspective that Christ is still to come.
Advent whispers to us to slow down, to be okay with “not yet”, and to learn how to worship God in the waiting.
As we wait for the Savior, we acknowledge our need of a Savior to break in to our lives. I invite you to think about how Mary allowed the Savior to “break in” to her life. Even if you didn’t grow up in Church, you may still know that Mary was the mother of Jesus. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you are likely well acquainted with this woman, but if you grew up in a Protestant or Evangelical Church, you might not know quite what to do with her! Mary was just a girl – not sinless, not perfect, but chosen. And Mary was a worshiper. We can learn something about worship as we look at her expectant worship.
I want to suggest four things that worship does:
- Worship helps us take our place in God’s Story.
- Worship helps turn our ears to His voice
- Worship helps tune our hearts to sing His grace
- Worship helps train us to be ready for what is to come
We encounter the fullest account of young Mary in the book of Luke. Why not grab your Bible and check out Luke 1:26-33. I’ll just wait here…
What did you see? This is a familiar story, and one easily glossed over because we’ve heard it so many times. Let’s try to see this with fresh eyes today. The Angel Gabriel appears to her, seemingly out of the blue, about six months after he visited Zechariah with surprising news that he and Elizabeth would have a son, John, who would prepare the way for the Lord.
(Sidenote: How does one react appropriately when an Angel shows up? Mary’s initial reaction is described a number of ways across the different translations: she was confused, disturbed, greatly troubled, and much perplexed. I don’t blame her! The angel called Mary “favored one” and said the Lord “is with you”. Mary has the honor of being the only woman in history with the distinction of being the mother of Christ, as well as the only virgin to ever conceive. This is a blessed position indeed!)
Worship Helps Us to Take Our Place in God’s Story
I want us to see that even the opening part of the story reveals something about worship. This part of the account began with the revelation of God to Mary through the Angel Gabriel. God was the initiator of this encounter, not Mary. He revealed Himself to Mary through the Angel, and Mary discovered in that moment that she had a significant place in God’s unfolding narrative. This order is still true today as we relate to the same God. He is still the one to initiate worship. He is the One to invite us to respond to His grace. We do not come to God by our own innovation or initiative. We can’t! It is His gracious invitation that prompts us to respond to Him. And this sets us in our place in the unfolding of His grand Story, because He invites us to be part of its unfolding.
So God set Mary in His Story, and the ball was in her court. How would she respond to God’s invitation? Keep reading verses 33-38… She asks simply one question: “How will this happen?” She clarifies for a second, but is pretty quick about deciding to step right in. She is willing to allow God to break in to her everyday existence. Just like Mary, we have the opportunity to step in—or not—when God reveals Himself to us. Will we open ourselves up for God to break in to our lives?
Because that is the move of a worshiper.
Worship Helps to Turn Our Ears
Let’s look at what happens next. Go ahead and read verses 39-44. One of the first things Mary does after stepping into God’s story is visit Elizabeth, for the Angel told her Elizabeth was pregnant. Presumably this is surprising because of Elizabeth’s age (and because they don’t have Facebook back then!) I’m surmising, but Mary’s haste to visit Elizabeth might indicate her eagerness to see what else God is up to. It might indicate an excitement to see God’s Story begin to unfold.
When Mary shows up, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, and her baby leaps inside of her. Elizabeth cries out in joy, and prophesies over Mary. The words that Elizabeth speaks are inspired by the Holy Spirit. They confirm what the Angel had promised, and affirm Mary’s obedience to the Lord. Because she has chosen to step in and pursue God’s Story, her ears are turned to hear from God. In those days God spoke through the Prophets, but today God speaks to us in His Son, as it says in Hebrews chapter 1. Worshipers – those who have chosen to step into their place in God’s Story – know the voice of Jesus. Worship – responding to God’s invitation – unlocks our ears to hear Him.
All around us, already, it appears to be Christmas. But in this two-part series, I invite you to stop awhile, to breathe and to be in Advent, expectant that God wants to—and can—break in to areas of your life that may be still closed. Advent worship helps us to take our place in God’s Story, and helps to turn our ears to His voice. In Part 2 of this series, we will look further into Mary’s response to God and see that worship also helps tune our hearts to sing God’s grace, and trains us to be ready for what is to come.