Capturing the beauty of Christmas in two words—God’s favorS. JOSEPH KIDDER, Professor of Christian Ministry and Discipleship, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University
With so many things on our minds this Christmas season allow me to draw your attention to just one word: favor. It lies at the heart of the Christmas story. Its sound reflects its beauty. Favor.
God’s Favor On Mary
Let me paint a scene for you. A young woman is sitting in her house. She lives in an obscure town called Nazareth, and her family is poor. It’s a forgotten place whose citizens are people who couldn’t find an opportunity to leave. In those days people said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” This young woman’s name is Mary.
One day, God sent the angel Gabriel to her saying, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” In response to this, Mary was “troubled.” She wondered about this kind of greeting. So the angel spoke to her a second time. “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:28-30).
I looked up the word favor and found quite a long list of definitions and descriptions, but one stood out to me: Favor is kindness beyond what is due or usual.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
The angel is saying, “God is going to show you kindness beyond what is due or usual.” The angel goes on to explain this unusual kindness that God will show to Mary. “You will conceive and give birth to a son and you are to call him Jesus, he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31, 32).
When the angel says to Mary “you are highly favored,” he is saying, “You are uniquely privileged.” Mary carried the life of God within her. She was highly favored because she was the one by whom the Son of God was born into the world. God did not chose the daughter of a king or a high priest or the chief rabbis of Jerusalem, He chose Mary because of her simple faith and ultimate trust in God. You may say, “That is marvelous for Mary, but what in the world does it have to do with my life today?”
God’s Favor On Us
|Before we look at the significance of Jesus being born through Mary for our lives, we need to unpack in depth the meaning of the word favor. The word favor is used 163 times in the NIV Bible and all of them are positive in showing God’s grace and mercy towards us or people shoeing love or grace toward others. Finding favor means gaining approval, acceptance, or special benefits or blessings. There is also a close association of favor, grace, and mercy, which are sometimes used to translate the same Hebrew and Greek words. The favor that human beings receive from God depends on His good pleasure and is often extended in response to prayer or righteous living. Those whose walk is blameless, such as Noah or Moses (Gen. 6:8; Ex. 33:12, 13), receive favor and honor from the Lord (Ps. 84:11). Another definition of the word favor is “demonstrated delight.” The favor of God can be described as “tangible evidence that a person has the approval of the Lord.” When we favor someone, we want to be with him or her. We delight in him. We connect with her in a special way. But what brings delight to my heart is that God has favored me and delights in me. “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17). God is so much in love with us that when He thinks of us He has sparkles in His eyes. God’s greatest desire is to put His favor and grace on us. “The Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you” (Ps. 84:11, 12).|
The Lord invites us to seek His favor (Ps. 119:58, 135; 2 Kings 13:4; Jer. 26:19; Zeph. 2:3). When we seek His favor, we humble our hearts before Him (2 Kings 22:19); seek Him for Himself, not just for the blessings He gives (Jer. 29:13); and arrange our lives around loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).
God’s Ultimate Favor
What does all this mean for us? It means that when we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior He will favor us by living inside of us just as He did with Mary. To be a Christian means that the life of Jesus is in us.
We find this theme throughout the Bible. The apostle Paul says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). On one occasion he says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). On another occasion, writing to Christians in Galatia, He says, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you . . .” (Gal. 4:19).
The Christ who was formed in Mary by the flesh is formed in His people by the Spirit. Christians are people with the life of Jesus in them. Jesus spoke about this Himself. He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5). The life of the vine is in the branches. It’s what makes them the branches of the vine. If you are a Christian, you are highly favored. You carry this marvelous privilege. The life of God is in you.
During a recent summer, a blue swift built a nest in a large urn sittin in my back yard. In it she laid six eggs. This beautiful, shy creature had made her home (almost) in my house. I felt privileged that I had been honored by her presence.
How should we respond to the Lord’s favor?
If I felt privileged when a bird nests by my door, how much more privileged should I feel knowing that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in me? Our hearts should well up with gratitude and song at the mere thought of it.
Some of us take photographs when guests visit our homes. I love to glance through a “Visitor’s Book” to see who has stayed in our home. On occasion I see the name of a well-known person or a dear friend. But none of this compares to having the Spirit permanently dwell in our hearts.
Each one of us is one out of 7+ billion people on planet earth. But the God of the whole universe decided to come and dwell in our hearts if we invite Him. That’ss God’s favor.
How should we respond to the Lord’s favor? We can’t do better than Mary’s reply to the angel’s pronouncement. Mary said, “May it be to me according to your word.” This means, “May everything you’ve said about the favor of God be a reality in my life.” That’s the essence of faith and obedience, embracing the very favor of God in Jesus Christ.
If you’re a Christian today, I hope you see how rich you are in Jesus Christ. You live under the favor of God. What could be greater than this? His smile is upon you in Jesus Christ. Your sins are forgiven. The life of God is within you. You have been set free. An eternal inheritance has been restored to you and is waiting for you. You are privileged. You are loved. You are blessed. And you are surrounded by the kindness of God that is beyond what is due and usual. In Jesus Christ you have every reason to rejoice.
If you have never seen the supreme value of Jesus Christ, if you’ve never realized all that can be yours in him, I hope you will seek and find him and that the favor of God will become yours now and for eternity.
 The angel Gabriel later on went and visited the shepherd and he used the word favor to announce the birth of Jesus to them too (Luke 2:14, NIV).
 All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible (NIV) unless otherwise specified.
 The words “favor” and “favored” appear 118 times in NKJV and 163 times in NIV.