The Trouble of Christmas

By Ricky Chelette

“And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:28-33

The story of Christmas is familiar to most of us. The announcement of the coming of the Son of God to a rather ordinary young woman, the virgin birth, even the faithfulness of Joseph to stick with his soon-to-be-pregnant wife. These are amazing facts in themselves, but there is something in the midst of this phenomenal passage I have often overlooked. It is something I have seen repeated in the lives of people I know and something I have experienced on many occasions. Notice these words…

“But she was greatly troubled…”

Does that statement sound odd to you? How can the Angel of the Lord appear to you, speak words that are from God, and you be troubled? But that is exactly what Mary felt. We don’t know why Mary was troubled because the scripture doesn’t say. She has yet to hear she will be the mother of God’s son – that would cause most to be troubled. But she is troubled by a simple statement of grace, “O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

Mary’s humanity is showing. I imagine she is bewildered as to why the God of universe would choose her for anything. Though devoted in her faith, she is keenly aware of her shortcomings and her sin. She knows the darkness that lies in her own, very human soul. She can’t think of a thing she has done that would merit her the “favor” of the Lord. But she has it. She has been overwhelmed by grace.

Grace is one of the most frightening realities in the world. We can’t figure it out. We can’t manage it. We can’t even earn it. In fact, the every essence of its existence mandates our inability to achieve it on our own. Because it is radically uncontrollable, it is immeasurably frightening to us. We want it, but we want to run from it when we get it. Mary was troubled.

I am often troubled when God wants to extend grace to me. On the one hand I long for it and pray for it. On the other hand, I know I don’t deserve it and secretly often don’t expect to get it. I’m afraid to embrace it, because what if grace stops? What if it abandons me? What if fails in the moment of my greatest disobedience or momentary rebellions?

I believe Mary is troubled for the very reasons most of us are troubled when God blesses us for no apparent reason. We rarely see grace, God’s kind of magnanimous, ridiculous, overflowing, abundant grace lived out before us. When we do, it is packaged in a person, a sinful and fallen human, who is destined to disappoint us.

But herein lies the beauty of Christmas. When God sent Jesus He sent the one human who would personify all the grace and mercy of the Father in perfect humanity and deity. He would be the answer to the greatest human longings and the perfecter of those who have faith. He would demonstrate love as no other by giving His very life for us, and in so doing, make a way to never leave us or forsake us. What an overwhelming, lavish display of grace to you and me.

I believe this is why Mary was troubled and why we often are as well. The evidence of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – The Gospel – calms our fears and answers all the questions. We don’t deserve Christmas, but He gave it – all of Himself to all who would believe.

Do not be troubled for the grace God wants to give you this day. Be overwhelmed by His goodness and love. You did not earn it and you can’t. But He has found you. He has given you favor! Join with Mary in declaring, “He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is for those who fear him…” (Luke 1:46-55)