By: Carolyn Porterfield, Monica Salinas, and Nora O. Lozano
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The first chapter of Luke describes two fascinating narratives that traditionally have been recognized as the stories of “The Annunciation” and “The Visitation.”
In the first one, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary to give her the news that she would become the mother of Jesus. Since she was a virgin, betrothed to Joseph, one can only imagine how Mary felt with this news. As a way to invite Mary to believe in what was going to happen to her and in the importance of her son for humanity, the angel also shares that Elizabeth, the one who was barren and old in age, is also pregnant with a special son (Luke 1:26-38).
From the story, we also gather that no one else was a witness to the encounter between the angel and Mary. Thus, after the angel leaves Mary, she is pregnant and with a story to tell that is near impossible to believe.
The second story describes how Mary, after receiving her news, hurries to visit her relative Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45). Perhaps she went as a way to corroborate what the angel had told her, or as way to find some refuge, support, and encouragement. As she arrives, Elizabeth greets her with these words: “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:44-45).
Both of these stories involve women who believed in God’s words, plans, and promises for them and their sons, John and Jesus. One wanted to be pregnant for a long time, but recognized that God has his own timing. The other one, most likely did not want to be pregnant, but willingly accepted God’s plans for her.
These two women become an example for us for the way that they embraced God’s plans and promises. They trusted God’s wisdom and overarching plans, and they invite us to do the same.
As a way to further explore this idea of believing in God’s plans and promises for us, especially in light of the new year, members of the CLLI community shared these reflections:
A teenage girl was living according to the cultural and religious customs of her day. She was engaged to a man and looked forward to raising a family. Her plan was interrupted by unexpected and life-altering angel’s words: “Mary, you have found favor with God. He has chosen you to bear His son, the Messiah.” What would your response be if God had said those words to you? Mary declared herself God’s servant and surrendered to His plan, one that would not only change her life but also ours.
Proverbs 16:9 says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” Just like Mary, we all have plans for our lives. But what if God interrupts your plan with revisions and changes? What if God challenges you to aim higher and go farther than you ever thought you could? Do you trust God to direct your steps even though the way might be hard and costly?
I know from my own experience that God’s plans are so much better than anything you can come up with. Go ahead. Take that first step. As you do, hear the same words the angel spoke to Mary, “Do not be afraid.”
The fact that the magnificent and glorious God of the Bible has given us such great and wonderful promises in his word never ceases to amaze me. Ephesians 1:3 says that “he has [already] blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ.” What does this mean? Those of us who believe in Christ enjoy daily blessings that we can only qualify as heavenly. Those blessings are God’s love, forgiveness, compassion, mercy, patience, goodness, peace, strength, and many other blessings that perhaps we do not see, but that we constantly receive. Sometimes we do not appreciate them, and other times, we take them for granted. However, if we think for a moment about what our lives would be like without God’s promises, we can better appreciate those blessings.
Knowing that these blessings are there and have already been given to me by my heavenly Father, gives me hope and strengthens my faith to look at the future. For just as He has been with me until today, loving me, forgiving me, being patient and merciful, and holding me up through difficult times, he will continue to do so. Therefore, like Elizabeth, I can say: “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her.”
What are the biblical promises that have become your stronghold?
We do not know what 2023 will hold for us. Perhaps you are starting the new year under some difficult or challenging circumstances. However, we know the one who holds the future in his hands. Thus, let’s believe with Monica that God will continue to bless us. Perhaps, as Carolyn’s reflections would imply, we may have to be flexible and open to alter our plans in 2023 in order to fulfill God’s most perfect plan for us.
Wherever we are in this new year’s eve, let’s remember that God is the same one, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. As we continue to celebrate the miracle of the incarnation, and what Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection bring to our lives, I invite you to affirm the promises that God has given you in the Bible. For me (Nora), this is the promise that I want to hold on to this new year: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
As we welcome the new year, let’s do it by following Elizabeth’s and Mary’s example. These women of faith trusted God and God’s plans. Were they uncertain, perplexed, and fearful? Of course they were! But they also were trusting God as they “believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises...”
Carolyn Porterfield is CLLI Board director and faculty. Mónica Salinas is CLLI office coordinator and faculty. Nora O. Lozano is CLLI executive director and faculty.
Art/photo credit: Visitation from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.