“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:38

Before Gabriel appeared to her, Mary’s life was set: she was betrothed to a good, Jewish man who made an honest living in a trade that he could pass down to their children. Life may not be filled with luxury as a carpenter’s wife in a small village, but she knew what to expect. She was a good girl; she would be a good wife and mother. She had followed the law of God and Man her entire life; she would marry Joseph and follow in the footsteps of generations of young, Jewish brides.

I often reflect on that moment Gabriel appeared to Mary. After greeting her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” The next thing he says to her is “Do not be afraid, Mary . . .” “Do not be afraid”? She is standing in the presence of an archangel. Surely, just the magnificence of Gabriel would be enough to take her breath away. I imagine Gabriel’s admonition, “Do not be afraid,” hovers in her mind as she learns that she will miraculously bear the Son of God, the Messiah who will save the world: do not be afraid, do not be afraid. . .

Her only question—the big one–“How can this be, since I do not know a man?” seems so obvious. But what secret prayers flood her heart as she stares at angel wings? Is her mind racing with the same thoughts I would be overrun with: How can this be if I have followed all the rules to a letter? How can I be favored when I am going to be treated like a fornicator, most likely stoned in the streets with the Son of God dying within me? How can this be favor when you are sentencing me to death, socially if not physically? What will Joseph say; what will become of my betrothed when I make a fool of him? How can this be favor?

How many of us have experienced a moment in which all we can say back to God is, “How can this be?” How can this be, because I did not sign up for this?! How can this be, because this does not run in my family?! How can this be, because I did everything right, and this was not the favor I had in mind?! How can this be when I thought we had already decided on a plan?! How can this be, how can this be?! Life hands us these moments in which everything is instantly changed, our way unclear, our hearts and stomachs falling through the floor.

As Mary’s world is redefined, Gabriel commands, “Do not be afraid.” And I wonder if we could relinquish our plans and our pride and our fervent insistence on deserving whatever it was we planned on, could we also let go of our fear? The map we hold in our hands—that we have painstakingly drawn up to include every good thing we deserve—may bypass the most perilous, fantastic adventure we would never think to look for. We naturally, as humans do, avoid the mountains and the valleys. But in doing so, we miss the darkness, where God becomes visible and leads us as we learn to trust him for each breath we take. We also miss the summits, so high and so close to Heaven we can almost touch the Sun.

The favor of God that Gabriel is proclaiming for Mary is not what we like to think of. We want to imagine that when the Lord favors us, He showers us with goods and health and prominence. But what if His favor comes as a commission? What if his favor is simply God using us to bring Him glory? Gulp. He sees an earthen vessel and wants to empty it of self and fill it up with Glory . . . filling us up to overflowing . . .

When we submit to becoming a vessel for Him to use, we earn the right to midwife the miracle He births within us. We submit to doing the work and trusting Him; we also receive the blessing of seeing Him weave every detail, hope dashed, love lost, and pride swallowed into an entirely new reality we could never have drawn for ourselves. No matter how perilous the journey, we climb and swim and stumble with Him leading us the entire way. We ourselves become the birth as we midwife the Christ-child into our empty, manger hearts.

I love Mary. I love that she responded, “I am the handmaiden of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to Your will.” Do unto me, Lord! Make me pliable, submissive, and brave enough to leap into Your arms and into whatever birthing adventure you are calling me to. Help me to let go of this silly map I made for my life, and start looking for angels around every corner. When they arrive, give me the courage and faith and strength to answer back to Your call, “Yes!”

Filled with anticipation,