The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.”
The story of Jesus’ coming is filled with men and women who are caught off-guard by the unexpected, personal attention of God. God is pleased with you, Mary, the angel says. God has been there. God has seen you. God has heard you.
When Zechariah saw [the angel], he was startled and gripped with fear.
Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…. Matthew 1:19-20
An angel of the Lord appeared to [the shepherds], and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Don’t be afraid, the messengers of the Lord remind people over and over again. God has come near, and he’s about to come nearer. The God you have prayed to, read about, talked about, wondered about, questioned, ignored, or been angry with—he’s here. It may have been more comfortable when he was at a distance, but it’s going to be life-changing when he is with you.
It can feel safer to deal with God from afar. It can be uncomfortable to allow him to come close—or to realize he’s always been there.
But the people of Christmas are each steered into an encounter with Jesus by God’s unsettling interruption. They—and we—need God’s personal attention to navigate life’s unexpected turns. Unexpected events can be far from pleasant, far from convenient, and may not feel holy at all. The Christmas story—the real, gritty, complex, stunning one that we read on the pages of the Bible—attests to this. Its people move through personal heartache, politics and violence, unbelief and faith and everything in between because of the unexpected presence of a God who comes near, who startles them but tells them that he comes with good news.
Where has your life taken an unexpected turn this year? Can you see God’s presence in it—or if not, can you hold on to the hope that he is there all the same? Pray that God will make you, and make us, people of Christmas: people who can move past our fear to have personal, unexpected moments with Jesus—and who can trust him to guide them through every season.