Amy Epp is a pastor at Seattle Mennonite Church, where she has been a part of the pastoral team since 2005. She is a spouse to Joe and parent to a 7 year old daughter and a yet-to-be-born son. She is most content when quilting, sewing or otherwise being crafty. She blogs sporadically here.
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“Glory to God in high heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”
– Luke 2:14, The Inclusive Bible
When I was ordained I was invited to choose the texts that would be read and preached in the worship service. I chose two: Mary’s song – the Magnificat – and Jesus’s proclamation from the scroll of Isaiah. It was the beginning of his public ministry. I chose these both because of their content – the declaration of God’s just reign – and because they both marked no-turning-back points of change for the speakers, mother and son. They seemed appropriate to the moment of ordination to ministry.
During the ordination service, David Morrow, who was then our District Pastor, preached these texts and revealed what I had not seen in them. They have in common the declaration and celebration of God’s favor. In fact, references to God’s favor are threaded throughout the first part of Luke. Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, the angels and then Jesus himself declare or are recipients of God’s favor.
In many of these stories, fear is a companion of favor. Angels telling their audience not to fear, people boing fearful of what God is doing in their midst. Favor does not by any means have anything to do with respite or safety or privilege. What has become clear to me after reading Luke’s take on ‘favor,’ or charis in Greek, is that God is not doing anyone any favors by bestowing this favor upon them. In fact favor is where the trouble begins.
Just for starters: the child of Elizabeth and Zechariah becomes the prophet to makes way for Jesus, cruelly beheaded because of conflict with a corrupt monarchy. Mary’s song declares that God’s favor rests on the lowly, poor and hungry, but she’s still one of an occupied people (never mind being a pregnant, unwed teen). The song of the angels declares that peace will be for those on whom God’s favor rests – people like those very folks – terrified, occupied, lowly and watching their sheep on a hill.
But the thing about favor is, that where there is fear there is also praising and glorifying God. The shepherds were amazed and they returned from their encounter with the holy family praising! They wanted to tell it on the mountain. They wanted to spread the good news. With the declaration of and living into being favored, there is a mighty hope that the lowly will be lifted up, that the hungry will be fed. Those who accept God’s favor head right into that trouble because a trouble like that is a trouble the favored want to be a part of.
The baby whom the angels announce to the shepherds, when he first called out the year of the Lord’s favor in his Nazareth synagogue, that sounded pretty good to the people who were listening to him. Until he went one step further to talk about the love of God demonstrated to Gentiles and almost got himself thrown off a cliff. Later, well into his ministry of healing, Jesus raises a widow’s son in Nain and the first thing we hear of is fear! “Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!’”
Fear and favor and glory to God are all mixed up together with the prophetic and prophesied action of Jesus – healing, preaching, calling disciples. Being favored by God is indeed a fearful thing. It is also a wonderful and joyful engagement with the reign of God. It is singing with Mary and the angels and preaching and healing with Jesus. Favor is greater than fear – far greater. May we give Glory to God in high heaven and may peace be upon those of us who rush head-long into God’s favor. No turning back.