Favor is a positive word until we hear someone say, “Would you do me a favor?” At that question, most of us bristle because we don’t have a servant’s heart and have no desire to be in the business of favor distribution. I cannot begin to count the times my fervent prayer has been for favor—with God and man, for others and for myself. In our limited thinking, being a recipient of favor is synonymous with success. However, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary at her home in Nazareth to announce that she had received God’s favor—probably without asking for it.. The mere appearance of the angel was enough to startle her, but the message he gave her was even more astounding. “Do not be afraid, Mary…You are highly favored.” He explained that God had chosen her to be the mother of His Son, and that He was to be named Jesus because He would save the people from their sins. Mary asked the angel, ‘But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.’ The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of God shall overshadow you; so the baby born to you will be utterly holy—the Son of God.’…Mary said, ‘I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to do whatever He wants. May everything you said come true.’
We think we would like being favored, but just ask children how it feels when a brother or sister has more favor with parents than they. For example, the prodigal son’s older brother was envious and bitter because he felt his younger, deviant brother was more favored than he. On the job, other employees often begin to play pranks or set up situations to ensnare their fellow-worker whom they feel is favored by the boss. Being selected for favor may be exciting for the moment, but in the end it often separates friends and brings scorn and rejection. Imagine Mary, a very young girl, living among her friends and relatives pregnant and unwed and telling them that it’s because she is highly favored. Imagine her telling Joseph, her fiancé, that she is pregnant by the Most High God because she is highly favored.
What does favor mean? According to dictionaries in English as well as Hebrew and Greek, it means “grace.” In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word chen is translated thirty-seven times as grace and twenty-seven times as favor. In the New Testament the Greek word charis is translated one hundred twenty-six times as grace and six times as favor. To get a better understanding of what favor is, we read passages of Scripture that contain the word and interchange the translation grace with favor and favor with grace. For example, Paul wrote, you are not under the law but under grace [favor]; and by the grace [favor] of God, I am what I am…not I but the grace [favor] of God which was with me.
When the angel said, You are highly favored, he spoke a message from God to Mary. The reason she had found grace in the sight of the Lord can be seen in the following acrostic. She was…
F – faithful
A – able
V – virgin
O – obedient
R – righteous
E – efficacious
D – dedicated
By favor, we usually mean singled out for distinctive treatment. Most of the time people want to be favored or exalted without having to accept any responsibility for earning the gift. They wish to be somebody special in the eyes of others. Unfortunately, the opposite is usually true. Anyone who has ever experienced being singled out for favor understands well the consequences that ensue.
Years ago, I was a classroom teacher when my principal approached me and asked if I would accept the position as counselor for the next school year. I agreed to the appointment, but much to my chagrin some of my fellow staff members felt they had been passed over for the post. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the by-produce of enjoying favor with the boss was enemies. The animosity toward me seemed to subside after a couple of years, but I never again enjoyed the bond of friendship I had prior to being favored. When I left that job to move to another state, I was still enjoying favor from the principal, but few blessings from the staff. They threw a going-away party for me, but I think it was their celebration of my leaving.
On the other hand, in all fairness, I must say there were some co-workers who were genuinely supportive of me during my tenure as counselor and that eased the pain of being favored. The actual job was most enjoyable. Working with the young people in problem-solving situations opened my eyes to many injustices as well as to teen expectations and character strengths. In retrospect, I’m still glad I consented to be “favored.” However, in another district when the unsolicited invitation came to be the school counselor, I quickly turned it down. My tenure there would be short, and I preferred it to be sweet.
Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was a godly woman and had been given a prophetic word to confirm for Mary that her favor was indeed from the Living God and she would bring forth from her womb the Messiah. Mary’s response involved all three realms of her being: She consented to let the Holy Spirit overshadow her; she yielded her body to be the temple for the Holy Child Jesus; and she said, My soul (mind, will, emotions) magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His Name.
Like Mary, we are highly favored and have been chosen to bear in our bodies the marks of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like Noah who found grace in the eyes of the Lord and he and his family were saved from the flood, we have found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Now if we receive it and act upon it, we will be saved from hell and live eternally with Jesus. Others may not understand this favor bestowed upon us. Jesus warned us that in this world we will have persecution, but He told us not to fear for He has overcome the world. Our enemy does not want us to walk in the favor given us by our Heavenly Father. He wants to steal it from us. He will ridicule us and try to make us think we are not worthy of it. However, Jesus was born, lived, died, and was resurrected that we might receive favor. Does that mean that things will always go well for us here on earth? No, but it does mean that we are each singled out by God as vessels in which His Son may live by the Spirit.
Everyday is Christmas for the follower of Jesus Christ. Congratulations! We are highly favored.
(c) East of Bethlehem, C. Yvonne Karl, Brentwood Press, 2003. Chapter 7.
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