A few years ago at the start of a new year, I asked God to give me a word to frame or define my year. I quickly sensed the word “receive.” It seemed a little selfish. I mean, we all know it’s better to give than to receive, right? And, to be honest, I didn’t quite understand what God wanted me to do with that word. It’s funny now that I look back on it that it was almost as if I was expecting God to both give me a word and tell me right then what it should mean for me, without me doing anything. Of course it was to be a journey, an unfolding of the grace of God in my life. So I set out, looking everywhere as I went, hoping and expecting to encounter God. And I did encounter Him.
The season of Advent is a similar journey where we prepare our hearts to receive the gift of the Christ-child and look forward to Christ’s second coming. Luke 1:26-38 recounts the story of Gabriel visiting Mary and giving her the news that she would indeed bear the Messiah. Verse 28 tells us Mary is favored by God, and He is with her. Just like Mary if we are to receive all God has for us during this season and during our lives, our hearts have to be prepared to receive and experience God.
We Are Reminded to Prepare Ourselves to Receive and Be Surrendered to Christ
Mary was as surprised as any of us would be if an angel appeared to us right now. Verse 29 describes her as confused and disturbed. But that’s not to say that Mary was unbelieving. Mary’s heart was prepared to receive, but it doesn’t mean she immediately understood all the angel was saying. As the angel Gabriel kept talking, I can only imagine how her confusion grew. She was going to have a baby; yet, she was a virgin. Her baby was to be the Messiah; yet, she was just an ordinary teenager. However, her response when Gabriel finished speaking tells us a lot about who Mary was and gives us insight into how we should live. Mary says in verse 38, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” Mary didn’t need convincing that she was the Lords. She had already committed her life to God. She was prepared to encounter and receive God, even though He came in an unexpected way. She believed that she belonged to God before Gabriel ever came to visit. So, when God’s messenger showed up, she surrendered to God’s plan. In the same way, Advent reminds us to prepare our hearts to receive God so that we readily surrender and submit to His plans when He calls.
During the year I set out to understand what it meant to look for God everywhere and receive whatever it was He might have for me, I learned how easy it is to surrender to God and see Him when our hearts are prepared. That season of my life involved some health and relationship challenges. It was, by no means, an easy season. Yet, I received peace like I had never experienced before because I was convinced God was working. I was able to make wise choices and release my anxiety because I knew, and couldn’t be swayed from believing, that God would work out every challenge I encountered for my good and for His glory. My heart was prepared for that season of life even though I didn’t know ahead of time what challenges I would face because I had filled my heart with prayer, Scripture, and expectation.
We Are Reminded that God’s Promises Come True in the Midst of Our Surrender
Did Mary know, like the song asks, all that being the mother to the Christ-child would mean for her? Did she realize she would lose her son in such a horrible way or that He would turn culture on its head? I don’t know. However, I do know she trusted God to keep the promises He had made to her. In Luke 1:45, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth says, “You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” As a result, Ann Voskamp says in The Greatest Gift, “the promises come true in the space of her surrender.” In other words, God’s faithfulness revealed itself through Mary’s surrender. During pregnancy a woman surrenders her body to the process of forming and nurturing another person. She gives her mental, physical, and spiritual health to nourish the new life within her. Mary surrendered everything she had to God knowing that Joseph, to whom she was engaged, could choose to leave her. She knew her family could turn their back on her when they found out she was expecting. She knew there could be a great cost. Yet, Mary believed God and offered up her life to Him, and He was faithful to her. She did indeed bear the Messiah. Joseph didn’t leave her. Her family recognized God in her. In the same way, God is faithful to us, and God’s promises come true in the midst of our surrender to and trust in Him.
Life rarely goes as planned. Our parents get divorced. We experience the death of a close loved one. God asks us to end a relationship we don’t want to end. We don’t get into our top college pick. We experience depression and anxiety or a mental health crisis. We begin to wonder where God is and how He could ever work through our circumstances. Luke 1:45 is a verse that I consider to be my life verse. In one sentence we are reminded whose we are and who we serve. This verse has kept me going on many a difficult day. God is good, and He does not lie. His very essence is love and faithfulness. Because of this, we can trust Him in the same way Mary did. He will keep His promises to us regardless of the curveballs life throws at us. It’s when we surrender by trusting that He is good and He is working that we will begin to see the fulfillment of His promises in our lives. And like Mary experienced, sometimes the fulfillment of those promises takes place over a lifetime.
Maybe you feel like God has nothing good planned for you. Or maybe you’ve been waiting a long time to see God answer a specific prayer, but still there seems to be no answer. You know the hope of Advent – Jesus, but it’s hard to feel hopeful right now. I challenge you to fill your heart with the expectation to receive God. Not just receive something from Him, but receive God Himself. Are there parts of your heart you need to surrender? Give those to Him. And as you wait for His promises to come true or to hear the next word from Him, rest in the truth that God always keeps His promises and that just as Luke 1:45 says, you are blessed when you believe that He will keep His promises to you.
God, thank You that You are good, true, and faithful. Thank You for keeping Your promises to me. Help me to surrender my whole life to You, and much like Mary carried Jesus, help me to carry within me this Advent season the expectation to see, feel, and hear You.
The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas by Ann Voskamp