"And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid...'" Luke 1:30-34
You've got to be kidding me!? First of all it's an angel. Even in the Bible how many people get a personal angelic visit? Count them. Not many. So the whole experience begins with a little bit of an out of the box kind of encounter.
The words the angel speak are heard as a command which makes me understand that Mary was...well, afraid. I don't recall many Christmas songs written about knees knocking, hand trembling, lip quivering Mary. But there she is, as the commentators like to tell us, all of thirteen years of age or so, face to face with an angel. Scared and trembling.
Upon hearing this wild and crazy plan God has in mind from the mouth of an angel, Mary's response was to question it. She actually has what seems like a very rational response, "How can these things be since I am a virgin?"
I'm so grateful for this passage of Scripture. It gives me such a good look into the reality of life and the way God desires to transform any of us who desire to follow in Jesus' way. Not necessarily with angelic visitations (wouldn't that be an unbelievable testimony) but with an encounter of God's voice that pushes me into faith further than I currently am. There is the push to look at something beyond my understanding or comfort and there is the assurance of the power of grace to take me there. Ultimately there is a confrontation of fear within me. For spiritual formation to be genuine I think those four things are essential.
God's voice, we learn to hear it first through the Scriptures, then through a variety of avenues. God's desire for our lives ultimately is about growing towards love in a way that is beyond us. God's assurance of His favor, or grace, is always present to empower us to go wherever He is leading us. What we bring to the table is usually fear.
We're being invited to go somewhere we've chosen not to go before. This voice of God confronts our comfort, our sense of control, our security, or some measure of a sense of significance. If we thought this was going to help us in any of those areas we would have chosen it on our own already. Since these things are so powerful dynamic in our lives, when asked to by God to go beyond them, it can only first produce fear.
Fear comes before faith. Fear brings all the rational arguments for why this will not work. Fear proves that in a just world I shouldn't have to forgive or give that much or speak to that person or maybe why I shouldn't keep quiet, or any number of rational arguments for why not love to what seems like the extreme God is asking.
In true spiritual formation our fears must be confronted. Those fears can only be overcome by perfect love, which is God's love for us. If we don't believe He loves me perfectly then we will not be able to trust His favor, or grace, to take us beyond where we are. But if we, for a brief moment let His perfect love wash over us and accept it then we have just entered into a new level of faith. A faith that echoes Mary's words, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said."