I seem to think about Mary quite a bit during Advent. Her story is compelling. We first see her when an angel shows up on her doorstep. Gabriel. From the very Presence of God, no less. He tells her about what is going to happen in her life. Her world is going to be completely upended. Yet despite his confusing and disturbing message he assures her.
“Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:30 NIV)
Her reply was astonishing if you think about it. God certainly picked the right girl. She said,
“ I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38 NIV)
This is what surrender looks like. And perspective. She had an understanding she was God’s servant, although she couldn’t have known what this would look like as time went on. She consented and in the process she became the mother of Jesus, God’s very own Son.
And then there are the other ways her life played out, such as,
Scandal: She was unwed and pregnant. Whispers of mean-spirited speculation must have been rampant. Humiliation.
The Census: She had to travel in her last weeks of pregnancy. Travel was not easy in those days. Anyone who has been pregnant can attest to the fact this would have been a nightmare. Hardship.
Turned Away: She was ready to give birth and was staying in a stable, far from home. She must have been scared, as she didn’t have the tender care of family and friends to help with the birth of her Child. Fear and Heartache.
Flight to Egypt: This was not the kind of flight we take these days; this little family had to flee for their lives. They became refugees, trying to keep their child safe, alive. Hunted.
All of this doesn’t seem like a life of favor. Humiliation. Hardship. Heartache. Hunted down. We do get a glimpse of how Mary handled all of this after she gave birth and the shepherd’s visit. Luke tells us “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” She might not have understood all of what was happening but she stored up the amazing things she witnessed and kept them close to her heart. She didn’t seem to be focused on the hard things but rather the wonder of the miraculous. This begs the question. What do I focus on, especially when things don’t go as I hoped? I think what she chose to focus on, is important to notice. Those treasured memories became the fuel that helped her trust God, in spite of the difficulties she encountered in life.
And then we come to the Cross. Here we see the enduring faithfulness of this beloved servant of God. John tells us the mother of Jesus stood at the foot of the cross. He would know; he was standing with her. It was there Mary experienced the worst. She witnessed her Son’s painful, undeserved, and (seemingly) untimely death. But she was there. She was among the few who followed Jesus to the cross.
This woman of God’s favor, was not spared the pain life can bring. By most standards, we can agree Mary lived a challenging life. How does that line up with your theology? As I think about this, I have to think this “favor” of God has to do with other things than what I sometimes like to imagine.
This leads me to question the things I value, desire, strive for, expect.
Do I even notice the many ways God shows me I am favored, loved, when I am faced with difficulties? Or do I spend my time obsessing on my disappointments and unmet expectations? This is not easy stuff. We don’t like pain. We don’t like our little worlds, our little kingdoms, upset. The truth is, no one has everything go his or her way, all of the time. Just to be clear, when (not if) things go sideways in our lives, this doesn’t mean God has withdrawn His favor from us as His children. It also means we don’t live in denial. We have to deal with things realistically. Grief is real. Disappointment is real.
A good question we can ask ourselves when live gets hard is, where is my focus? Where am I finding God in it all? What is He teaching me? These are questions we must continue to ask ourselves as they can lead to the transformation of our souls. We can work at living with the intention of being surrendered to God, trusting Him, as Mary did, knowing things are working for our good. Romans 8:29 tells us this is all about being conformed to the image of God’s Son (I know we all love Romans 8:28 and many can quote it but it is verse 29 that puts verse 28 in proper perspective).
I have done hard times with God (not perfectly of course) and have done hard times on my own, without God (not that He wasn’t with me, I was just too busy being upset to notice His presence). Slowly but surely I have learned living a “with God life” no matter the circumstances, makes all the difference in the world. I have learned to work at pointing my heart and my mind towards the Lord through it all. The reality is, He is the only constant we will ever find in this journey called life. His coming was the ushering in of Emmanuel, God with us. This is favor indeed.
For reflection I would like us to consider John 2:1-12. This is about the wedding Jesus attended with Mary and a few of His friends (disciples). What I want to get at is Mary’s mindset when the wine runs out. She turns to Jesus with the problem. We can read His less than encouraging response in verse 4 (NLT). “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” Yet that doesn’t deter her. Her reply was to tell the servants, “just do as He says.” And then she left the room. Mary left the outcome entirely to Jesus. This is a picture of trust. Classic Mary.
~ How are you at leaving outcomes to Jesus? What are the things that have happened and/or are happening, that cause you confusion, doubt and/or fear?
~ Consider how these things are affecting your life? Don’t try to pretty it up. Keep it real. Pray and ask God to show you what He wants you to notice in this context.
~ Take some time to sit with this a bit. Imagine these things in your hands. Do you sense a driving desire for particular outcomes, or find yourself ruminating over regrets about how things have turned out? Are you holding tightly to anything with a clenched fist? Are there things you would like to let go of?
Food for Thought:
Did you know that in Psalm 46:10 where we are invited to, “Be still and know that I am God,” the word for “be still” in Hebrew means let go of your grip?
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Psalm 46:10 NIV
This is about entrusting our lives to our Creator, the Almighty God. Surrendering to God is where we find the freedom we yearn for. True freedom. Freedom to say yes to God. This is exactly what Mary did. She said yes to God. She told Gabriel to bring it on. And what a life she led. In humility, she allowed God to use her life as He saw fit. She gave birth to the One Who came to save us all. What would it look like for you to open your hands and let go, in order to allow God to use you in whatever sphere of influence you might have?
Set aside some time for this one. Sit quietly with your hands open as an expression of your intention to let go of things you are holding on to, things you have no control over, things you are obsessing over. Think of this in terms of intention because it may take some time to get to the place of really letting go. This is completely normal. As you relax into this open stance, is there anything you sense the Lord might want to say to you? Imagine your open hands receiving whatever He has for you. Or you might want to raise your hands in worship as you recognize the good things God has done for you.
Don’t force any of this. This is God’s in you work. You might want to sit with these things more than once, as over time it can be more and more insightful, as well as healing. We can learn to see His grace and mercy at work in our lives, even in the midst of the muddle.
Below is Mary’s joyful expression of saying yes to God. Was her life perfect, trouble free? No. Yet this incredibly brave woman entrusted her life to God and accepted all He had for her. Some call this Mary’s song. What song would you sing as you say yes to God’s plans for your life, knowing He loves you so very dearly?
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is His Name.
His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as He promised our ancestors.”