All year long I’ve been planning what I would read for Advent. In typical 2020 fashion, those plans fell through and in a last minute decision, I decided that instead of trying to quickly come up with an alternative, I would just read the opening chapters of Luke each day. There’s something about reading the same thing over and over that opens your eyes to things you’ve never considered before.
The story of Jesus’ birth is one known by even unbelievers. Each December there are plays, movies, songs in the grocery stores, cards and paintings all depicting the most miraculous event of human history: God Himself becoming man and being born of a virgin. We’ve heard it so many times though that I fear we’ve not only lost the wonder but we’ve immunized ourselves from some of the conviction that lies in the opening chapters of Luke. We’ve turned it into a Dicken’s tale that we pull off the shelf and read beside our Christmas trees and sometimes fail to see how this story changes the way we live.
Because it does. It should. In so many ways.
Jesus coming was our salvation. It was the fulfillment of many promises, and it broke the four hundred year silence from heaven. Four hundred years. Four hundred years of waiting for God to say something, anything, and it ended with an angel visiting a young woman and turning her world entirely upside down.
Mary is a character that has been represented, immortalized, idolized, and honored throughout history. We see her in paintings looking angelically at the baby in her arms, we see her with a halo, or with hands clasped together looking wistfully down on us. But Mary was not an angel. Mary wasn’t divine. Mary was a human. Mary was just a girl, like me. She was the one God chose to usher in salvation, an honor indeed, but one bestowed not one earned.
Have you ever really thought about Mary? Have you ever considered her from the perspective of an ordinary girl who didn’t ask to be the only virgin in the history of the world to conceive and bear the Son of God? Have you ever taken a moment to appreciate the evidence of God’s grace in the small testimony we have of her life? I hadn’t. Not really.
We know very little of Mary. We assume she was young, perhaps in her teens based on the culture and marriage traditions of her time. We know she was betrothed to Joseph. We know this was more than the equivalent of a modern engagement. It was such a serious commitment that it could only be broken or annulled by divorce. We know she was from the town of Nazareth. We know she was favored by God. There’s really not much more information we are given about the woman who carried our Savior in her womb.
What has humbled and challenged me the last few days as I’ve read and re-read the opening chapters of Luke’s gospel is Mary’s trust in the Lord and joyful acceptance of His will for her life. I wish I could say that if Gabriel had appeared to me with the same news he gave Mary, I would’ve responded with the beautiful Magnificat that she did. But when I look around at my own life, my responses to the things God has given me to do, I’m not convinced that I would’ve.
I look back at the last year and I’m not very satisfied with the way I met the work God gave me to do. More often than not my prayers opened with, “Why Lord? Why this?” I wanted to follow Him, to make choices I knew were glorifying to Him, but I didn’t want the cost. I didn’t want the friends who couldn’t understand, I didn’t want the embarrassment, I didn’t want the work, I didn’t want to lay down my own dreams and aspirations to take up His better ones.
When Mary was told she would be pregnant by the Holy Spirit, she responded with, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” (Luke 1:46-49)
There’s part of me, the very selfish human part of me, that stops here with a question. Mary, have you really thought about what this means?
This means that your friends will think you were a fornicator. This means Joseph will think you were unfaithful. This means you will be thought of poorly by almost everyone. This means your worldly reputation is ruined. How do you hear this and respond with, “He who is mighty has done great things for me?”
Mary trusted God. That’s how she could say it.
Mary had a mind set on eternal things, on the salvation of mankind rather than her temporal reputation among men in Galilee. Mary considered herself blessed to be chosen by God to play a small part in His plan to save the world, no matter the personal cost. Mary counted it all joy, she knew that the difficult temporary effects of what God called her to do could not compare with the eternal work He was doing. Mary looked beyond the potential negative implications into the grander scheme of things. She saw salvation. She saw the fulfillment of ancient promises. She saw a coming end to the tears and pain and death. She looked to things unseen.
What a testimony of faithfulness and trust.
We aren’t Mary. We aren’t being called on to carry the Savior in our wombs, only one had to do that. We are being called to something though, and while it’s different, it’s similar too. God called Mary to trust and obey, He calls us to do the same.
Mary set an example for believers when her heart responded in joy, gratitude, and reverence when God called on her to do something that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Though I’m sure she had questions, concerns, and confusion she responded with, “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” I don’t know much about Mary, but I do know that only a heart firmly rooted in the belief that God is perfectly wise and perfectly good could respond in such a beautiful way.
We are so prone to focus on ourselves, to think of the great things God is doing as inconvenient and confusing. We must keep a heavenly mindset, we must keep our eyes on Christ, we must remember that He is working in all of the details to continue forward in His plan of redemption. He makes no accidents. He makes no mistakes. His ways are higher than ours, and even in our moments of confusion, He is working all things for our good and His glory.
Perhaps this Christmas season, one of the many things we can learn from the story of our Savior’s unlikely birth is joyful trust and obedience from a heart set on something higher than ourselves. Maybe we can take a moment and appreciate the beauty of simple trust in the God who has proven faithful. Maybe at the closing of a year that has been everything we didn’t anticipate or ask for, we can look deeper. We can see the work God is doing in the lives of men, women, and children around the world. We can focus on the unseen movement toward the fulfillment of another promise, the one when all our tears will be wiped away, and justice will be satisfied. We can sing, with Mary, “He who is mighty has done great things.”
Because He has. He is. He will continue. Let us trust and joyfully obey Him. Let us rejoice.