READ: Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:3-5, Matthew 2:13-14, 19-23, 13:54-55, Luke 4:22 (Click here to read selections from the NIV)
One sunny day in March of 2008, Abdel-Quader, a government employee in southern Iraq, discovered that his 17 year old daughter Rand had been seen in public, chatting with a British soldier. Enraged, he waited for her to come home, at which time he stomped on, suffocated and then stabbed the young girl to death. Though he was arrested, he was released two hours later, after having been congratulated by the police for acting to restore his family's honor in the face of the girl's immorality. The murder was fully sanctioned by Sharia law, although Rand had done nothing more than engage in conversation with the soldier during her breaks at work.
Though there were no such laws in first century Judea, the culture in which the teenage Mary had grown up would have had some similar values. People, for example, were not viewed as individuals, but rather as members of their group or clan, and therefore, whatever one person did, reflected on all of them. Nazareth was a small, conservative village with only about 400 inhabitants, which meant that everyone would most likely have been drawn into her pregnancy in some way. The fact that Mary claimed it was an act of God surely only made matters worse.
Yet, when the angel appeared announcing God's call to Mary, her response was nothing short of miraculous. Though deeply troubled at first, she answered with humble acquiescence and then broke out with the Magnificat, one of the most glorious psalms of worship ever written. Truly this was a girl with a tender heart toward the God of her childhood.
You have to think, though, that as she stood before her father sharing her news, that a measure of fear robbed her of the joy she'd experienced earlier. Even Joseph's plan to marry her could not have assuaged the rage and shame and sadness the teenager's dad must have felt, and probably expressed. Mary's baptism by fire had begun. As if months of rejection and scorn weren't enough, the very pregnant girl had to travel 80 miles in six days through the desert on a donkey, only to encounter a maelstrom of frustrated pilgrims fighting for lodging, and finally give birth in a grotto that sheltered sheep, with no sister or aunt or mother or midwife to hold her hand. Mary was mired in a crucible of God's making, toughening her up for even greater heartache to come.
By the time she'd raised Jesus, Mary had become a strong, confident, even headstrong woman. At the wedding in Cana, she quickly dismissed her son's objection to doing miracles before his time, telling the servants to follow his orders. She traveled with him off and on after that, until the day Jesus discharged her by declaring that it was the ones who did His Father's will, who were now his mother and brothers and sisters.
That is the last we hear of Mary until those hours when Jesus hung in a bloodied heap from the cross of Calvary. While most of His disciples fled in fear, the woman whose womb had carried Him looked bravely on, as her first-born took his final breaths. What memories flashed across her mind in those painful hours? Did the roar of the mocking crowd bring back the ridicule she had faced so long ago? When the soldiers bartered for his ragged robe, did she see herself in that stable, swaddling her infant against the chill of night? When water and blood shot from the stab wound in her Son's side, did she hear a distant echo of Simeon in the temple, warning her of a sword that would pierce her soul? In that moment, did she weep and wail and wonder how in the world she would ever recover?
And yet, recover, she did, at least in part, for the book of Acts tells us that Mary was there after Christ's ascension, praying with Peter and James and John and all the others as they waited for power from on high in the upper room. Only eternity will reveal the role she played in those days of the early church and the spread of the gospel throughout the land, and beyond.
So, as Christmas comes, let us consider this woman who pondered things in her heart, and loved the glory of Almighty God. Let us remember the way her trials shaped her, and the strength she gleaned from the sacrifices she made. And as we see her pressing on, pushing through, and persevering in the face of a kind of pain we cannot even begin to comprehend, let us give thanks; for we all are, to this day, in that woman's debt.
Pain is inevitable for those who would follow Christ, but as we see in Mary's life, there is always purpose in it. As you think of her story, ask God to show you how He has used your own struggles to make you into his chosen vessel. Offer Him your heart and life to do with as He wills, once again. Speak the simple words that Mary prayed aloud: Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; Let it be to me according to Your word."
Worship the Lord by personalizing the Magnificat, the prayer of Mary, upon learning of God's call:
Psalm 104:1-2, 31-34
"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,
even as he said to our fathers."
A CHRISTMAS ACTIVITY
Write Mary's words of submission on a card and carry it with you throughout the day, offering it up as often as possible, as your own prayer. Share it with someone else: Behold, i am the servant of the Lord; Let it be to me according to Your word.