Devotion for the Week...
As Nathan is fond of reminding me, only 13 more days until Christmas! And even at 8 years old, he has said a few times, "It feels like Christmas was only last week and now here we are only (insert ever decreasing number here) days away from Christmas again!"
We are now into the third week of Advent. We started out this season of anticipation for Jesus' coming by looking at Elizabeth's part in the Christmas story, then last week we considered Joseph, whose plans were altered by God to accommodate His bigger plans. This week, we'll be looking at Mary.
Aside from Jesus, Mary gets most of the attention in the Christmas story. We imagine her, hugely pregnant, forced to travel to Bethlehem for the census. We picture her giving birth in a stable, far from the familiar women she probably expected to have assist with the birth. And we see her holding baby Jesus, cradling her child and her God at the same time. What a beautiful and simple role Mary had, right?
Well, yes and no. Being a mother is both beautiful and simple, but Mary would have faced some hard times because of her role in the Christmas story. Most of us are familiar with the angel's visit to Mary to tell her what would happen:
"In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:26-35).
Obviously, Mary had to question how this was possible since she knew she couldn't have naturally conceived a child. But once that question was answered to her satisfaction, Mary accepted the assignment with a simple, "I am the Lord’s servant...May your word to me be fulfilled" (v. 38).
If you think about it, that kind of boggles the mind. Mary lived in a culture where a woman's purity was hugely important. Without it, she wasn't worthy of marrying...or of respect. In fact, it was part of the Mosaic Law that anyone guilty of adultery was to be put to death (Leviticus 20:10). And yet, here is Mary, willing to stepping into an assignment that will brand her as guilty of sexual sin in the eyes of everyone she meets. Because, really, who was going to believe her story about an angelic visitation and a supernatural conception?
Even if people believed Joseph to be the father, the child had still been conceived before they were officially married and so Mary's purity would have been non-existent in their minds.
And there was no hasty wedding the morning after the angel visited Mary, to make it look as if the appropriate 9 months had passed after the wedding before the child was born. In fact, after the angel left, "Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth... Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home" (vv. 39,40,56). From what I can gather, it was somewhere around that point that Joseph had his own angelic vision, understood the truth of the situation and promptly married her.
But by that point she was about three months pregnant. There would have been no hiding the early conception compared to the marriage, no hiding the fact that this baby arrived earlier than would be proper. Can you imagine the things that were said about Mary? To her?
There is no denying that people can be downright nasty when they disapprove of a person's choices or actions and a pregnant unwed girl would have been a prime target. Mary would have known that immediately when the angel presented God's plan to her. Did you notice how quick she was to point out that conception was impossible because she was a virgin? She knew how important her purity was. She would also have known how its sudden disappearance would be perceived.
But she agreed to the plan anyway.
Oftentimes, we think that if we're doing what God wants us to do, then the path will be smooth and there will be no obstacles. When things get hard, we think that maybe we misunderstood. That God doesn't really want us doing whatever it is we thought He wanted us doing, because if that was His plan then everything would be easy. And if it's not easy, then we must have been wrong.
But nothing could be farther from the truth. Just think about Mary and the insults and scorn she would have endured, all while carrying the Savior of the world.
There was no doubt Mary was doing what God wanted her to be doing. An angel had come and told her specifically...flat-out...no room for misunderstanding. And even though she was exactly where God wanted her to be, doing exactly what He asked her to do, I can't even imagine the hurt Mary must have experienced at the hands of people who didn't understand.
Mary didn't turn down God's assignment for her because of the trouble she'd endure. She didn't give up on the plan when faced with those who disapproved. We need to remember that when faced with our own problems when we believe we are doing what God wants us to do. Trouble isn't a sign that we need to give up or change plans. Trouble is just a part of life here on earth.
Trouble will always come, even when we're doing what God wants us to do, so we need Mary's attitude in our own lives. We need her willingness to accept trouble from those who didn't understand. And we need her willingness to jump into what God asked of her, regardless of personal consequences.
Because, really, personal consequences pale in comparison to God's plan.