I did something last night that I haven’t done in one year. Write. While the reason is too personal and honestly still a little too painful to share why, my heart has needed the time to heal. Something about writing is therapeutic for me and after a frustrating day at work, lots of emotions in a huge transition season of motherhood (I’m a new military mom!) and just a hard season personally, I needed to put words to my emotions. This, writing, is where Jesus meets me, it is where I worship Him most and He speaks to me most clearly. I was supposed to be returning to my first ministry love, teaching teen girls, for a Christmas Sunday School lesson in a couple of weeks. But Covid. I decided I would just share here for anyone who might need the encouragement my heart so needs this advent season. A few years ago, I began an intentional slow down through advent. It’s become a spiritual reset for me. I had worked so hard to create the perfect Christmas that I was missing Jesus. It has become the most treasured time of the year with my Savior. Simple, sacred and still.
Just a few weeks ago, I finished going through a Bible study with my mom and sisters, written by a bible professor who is a biblical culturist. Aka, a rockstar and I want to be like her when I grow up. Anyone else one of those nerdy people who want 15 different graduate degrees? Yeah, well I had to add Biblical Culturist to mine. Anyway, one of our lessons was on Mary. Based on biblical culture, Mary was most likely between 10-12. I always start advent with Mary. The simplicity of her yes just does something to refocus my faith and trust and surrender. And I had always been taught and assumed her to be 14-16. But 10-12? I was such an insecure, lonely 10-12 year old that I cannot wrap my mind around coming up with the words, “May it be done to me according to your word.”
This December 1, I yet again began the Advent season with Mary along with this new insight that she was probably even younger than I imagined. You know, the Bible is a story. The kind where you sink into their skin and step in their shoes. And you let the story read to you. And the magnitude of her yes overwhelms me every single time. Because yes, she did know the cost. At least the possible consequences. She was a faithful Jewish girl. She knew the law, there is no doubt. She knew it could cost her the plans she had made with her future husband. Possibly even her life. She also knew she was carrying the Messiah. Sorry to all “Mary Did You Know” fans. Just listen to the mouthful Gabriel gave her:
Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son and you will call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and His kingdom will have no end.Luke 1:31-33
What she didn’t know, is that with her yes would come so many seemingly things gone wrong. Don’t most of us expect smooth sailing when we say yes? I know I do. A late pregnancy census requiring long travel. An early birth in the middle of smelly animals. A king after her son’s life requiring her family to flee for their lives. She knew the rejection and shame she would face. But this? Certainly, Mary most likely responded better than I ever would simply because her initial yes is so unwavering. But we also see very human responses from Mary throughout her life, so I am inclined to think there were also moments of struggle. Thoughts like, God I gave up my reputation and so many relationships. Wasn’t that enough? Couldn’t you have at least cleared out a room for me somewhere inside to deliver Your Son?
Some questions come to mind as I read Mary’s story, both as a familiar friend and as if I’ve met her for the first time. Some truths I intended to share with the group of the teen girls at church.
- Does God have permission to invade my plans with His purpose? Sometimes we confuse God’s silence with the idea that he’s pleased with our lives when in reality it might be that he simply knows what our answer will be if he were to show up with his purpose and plans. I wonder how much we miss simply because we already have our hearts set on ourselves and our plans. And God simply allows us to have what our heart desires. But we miss him. Don’t you see it hidden between the lines of the story? Those who didn’t see Him? God gives us Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds and the Wiseman. But what about those from Mary and Joseph’s community who missed him because they never believed her story? Because they were not willing to believe the God really did come? Because they would not see past self and circumstance?
- Do I fear what I will miss more than I fear what it will cost? You see, we usually fear the cost more than what we will miss if we say yes. What if we as Christians actually began to fear missing out on what God has for us more than our fear of what it will require of us? We have weighed the earthly with greater value than the eternal because we have forgotten that we are Sons and Daughters of God Most High, citizens of that Kingdom that shall have no end. Just as Mary, our yes is how we carry Christ into this world. There is no cost that we could weigh against such a calling. May we have the same reply as Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant.”
- Do I expect struggles with I surrender? We forget that we are stepping into a battleground when we choose obedience. I so quickly forget. Things going our view of “right” is no measure of whether or not we are in the center of God’s plans. Remind me of that tomorrow and the next day because this is my greatest faith fight. I know yes won’t be easy, but I expect it to be smooth, a straight shot. I don’t know why. I know better. I don’t intend to imply a cynical view of life. Although isn’t it strange that we tend to have this dance where we expect both too much and too little from life? Obedience is simple but it is also hard work. Something about Mary continuing to stay faithful to her yes challenges me. She had to keep saying yes to her yes. Her yes really did require of her a lifetime of surrender. And Jesus really did mean it when He said, deny yourself. Today and then get up and do it again tomorrow. Here in our Western view of life, we want our yes to be pretty. We want it to be successful. And there may be times when God graces us with tangible success. That, however, can never be our deciding measure of obedience. You see, the problem isn’t what God asks of us. It’s our lense. Yet again, a result of our struggle with the earthly and eternal. We measure the worth of our surrender against the success we see. We base our continued obedience on the outcome of our past obedience. When the point of His plan is His work in us before it is His work through us. We value the reward more than the refining. We think God owes us results or we bail. Despite the shame and struggles, in her Song of Praise, Mary was overwhelmed that God would use her to carry His Son. Have we forgotten the honor given to us?
While it is most natural for us to ask what we can learn from the characters, the most important question to answer as we sit in the story of our Savior is not, “what do we learn from Mary?” Although, her yes has much to teach us. It is, “what do we learn about our God?” There are 3 truths He shows us about Himself:
- He shows up. He really does come. He is faithful to His word and His promise. He is faithful to us. To meet us in the ordinary of life, to use us and save us and speak to us. Cling to this truth when His silence seems unending. Believe this despite what you see or feel.
- He shows up in the most unexpected ways to the most unexpected people. He is in the business of the least likely. Your ordinary life matters. It is comforting to know I don’t have to be anything other than the simplicity of myself for God to see me and use me.
- He shows up and He asks us to surrender our plans for His purpose. His purpose is about the proclamation of His salvation. Using us, just as He did Mary, to reveal to this world its Savior.
The God we serve came to a 10 maybe 12 year old girl after 400 years of silence and asked for her yes to fulfill His centuries long promise of a Messiah. Something about the magnitude of this entire moment anchors my heart in hope. While our God could not be summed up in 3 simple truths, they are a good place to begin this advent season.
I’m usually so focused on all that went wrong for Mary, that I miss all that God orchestrated. A personal visit from an angel, changing the heart of her fiancé, shepherds worshipping her Son, a magnificent star, a host of angels and Wise Men. They sound like a fairy tale and the story is all too familiar. But just take a moment to let it all sink in. How many reassurances God gave her that this was all real and He was with her in the struggle of the yes. I’ve often missed this significant truth of the story. And I miss it in my own life.
May we believe Him. Believe that He will come to us. That He is here with us here in the yes. May we be like Mary and say yes scared. And keep saying yes. May we value the glory of His name more than the control of our lives. May the eternal matter most and be the measure of our lives. He is going to stretch you and wreck your plans and your comfort and shape you to carry His Son. Don’t miss it, don’t miss Him.