The Christmas carol “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” was composed by Charles Wesley and first appeared in a collection of sacred hymns and poems published in 1739. Originally, the opening line declared, “Hark! How all the welkin rings, Glory to the King of Kings” (“welkin” was a word for “sky” or “heaven”). George Whitfield, Wesley’s coworker, changed the first line to the familiar “Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King.’” The hymn is full of rich theology, including an affirmation of the virgin birth. The second verse includes the declaration, “Late in time behold Him come, offspring of a virgin’s womb.”
Luke 1:26-38 is the account of the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she (a virgin) would conceive and give birth to a son – and not just any son, but the Son of God – the promised Messiah and Savior. It is easy to understand how such news could be so overwhelming to her. She was young, perhaps as young as her early teens. She was engaged (in Jewish culture a “betrothal period” which counted as legally married, but not yet consummated) and her culture frowned upon unwed mothers. Mary must have wondered if Joseph would leave her, if her parents would reject her, and if the community would disgrace her. The path of her life was changing forever. Like Mary, we often feel overwhelmed. What can we do?
Let’s look at the account that follows for some clues on how we can react when feeling overwhelmed.
34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?”
35 The angel replied to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 And consider your relative Elizabeth — even she has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called childless. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”
38 “See, I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary. “May it happen to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
39 In those days Mary set out and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah 40 where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped inside her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and your child will be blessed [and the fruit of your womb is blessed] 43 How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill what he has spoken to her!”
46 And Mary said:
My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 because he has looked with favor on the humble condition of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed,
When you are feeling overwhelmed, EMBRACE the situation (Luke 1:34-38). Notice Mary’s words: “How can this be?” This is a question we ask when we are overwhelmed by a lack of knowledge or understanding. While she did not get any specific answers from Gabriel, she did get assurance that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37). Her reply showed her willingness to submit to God’s plan even when things were beyond her control and even when she could not fully understand. The temptation we experience comes from a desire to control everything. When we try to micromanage our life, stress increases. One great secret of peace is to entrust what you cannot control or understand into God’s capable hands – embracing His plans instead of your own.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, ENABLE others to help you (Luke 1:39-41). Sometimes when we face overwhelming circumstances, we withdraw, pull back, and isolate ourselves. But within just a few days, Mary went to see her cousin Elizabeth.
Notice the characteristics Elizabeth possessed that made her a good helper:
She was Godly (Luke 1:6 teaches us that Elizabeth was “righteous in God’s sight”) and even though we fully realize that no one is perfect, we can understand from this passage that the best helpers are people with strong faith.
She was Older (Luke 1:18 describes Elizabeth as “well along in years”). Though there are no guarantees that “older means wiser,” we can learn from this passage that it is prudent to seek help from someone with more experience in life that you.
She was Similar (Luke 1:41 tells us that Elizabeth was six months into her own miraculous pregnancy). When going through a difficult time or stressful situation, it is better to have people who can relate to your issues than poor advisers who cannot.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, EDIFY the Lord (Luke 1:39-41).
First, worship Him in prayer (Luke 1:46-47). This part of the story ends with a prayer of praise. Consider this the first Christmas carol. There is much going on that Mary does not understand, yet she lifts praises to God.
Next, worship Him in life (Luke 1:48a). In the midst of feeling overwhelmed, be intentional about keeping worship in your life. We need this time for balance and perspective and for the strength it brings to our souls. Be faithful to worship Him both in your life and with your life.
Whether overwhelmed by stress, fatigue, fear, loneliness, worry, sickness, or whatever other situation (real or imagined), take the steps that Mary did – embrace the situation (God has a plan); enable others to help you (God has the resources you need); and edify the Lord (God has the joy, peace, and strength to get you through) both in your prayer and in and with your life.
And in the face of your challenge, hear Him say to you, “For nothing will be impossible with God!”
© 2020 by J. David Chrisman
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible® Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.