Any mom will tell you that being a mom is both the most wonderful and the most demanding thing they have ever been involved in. Mother’s ride a roller coaster of emotion as they care for their children. They are often unappreciated.
When it comes to the Christmas Story, Mary, the mother of Jesus was one of the stars of the story. However, it is important that we remember that she likely did not feel much like a “star” during the process. She was a woman who had to face a number of very difficult issues as she prepared to give birth to the Son of God. Many were quite unique. Most of these issues probably dogged her all her life.
In our text we read the story,
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38)
Just in case you are not familiar with the story, here are the highlights,
- Mary was likely in her teens.
- She was engaged to a guy named Joseph.
- The Angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced that Mary was going to have a baby but Joseph was not going to be the Father. Mary was understandably confused by this and said, “How in the world is that going to happen . . . I have lived a pure life.” The angel told her that the child would be from the Holy Spirit. (Stop for a minute and think about how unnerving that idea alone could be.
- Not only was she going to have a child but the name of the child was going to be Jesus; and He would save the people from their sin. In other words, Mary was going to be the mother of the Messiah who had been anticipated for many hundreds of years.
- Mary had a hard time taking it all in but she said very simply: Let it be to me as you have said. In other words, she said, “I’m in”.
I think you would have to admit that the story of Mary and the Angel Gabriel is a remarkable story. Lots of people balk at the idea of a Virgin giving birth. In his book MIRACLES, Eric Metaxes says, if we believe that God created the universe, how hard is it really to believe that He could put a seed in the uterus of a woman?
What made the miracle more significant was who the baby would become. He was the Son of God who would be the man Jesus who taught with authority, was arrested on trumped up charges, executed like a common criminal, and who rose from the dead. Talk about being a proud mom!
The Back Story
What I want to focus on today is the back story; the details behind the story. I believe as we reflect on what was going on with God and Mary we are able to see that there is much here to teach and encourage us.
First, we must remember that Mary was unmarried. In our day and age people think little of someone who is pregnant outside of marriage. (That in itself is a sad commentary on the devolution of our society.) In Mary’s day this was a horrible scandal. Because this was not accepted practice Mary certainly faced a great deal of condemnation from people around her.
Think about it. Even if she was given the opportunity to explain (most people would condemn her without ever asking for an explanation) what was she going to say? Would anyone believe her story of the appearance of an angel and a child conceived by the Holy Spirit? Mary was just a common girl. No one was going to believe the story. As a result, she may have lived the rest of her life with people talking about her “immoral lifestyle” before marriage. And this child, the one who was to be the Messiah, would be considered illegitimate by most of the people.
We know from our perspective that this was unfair to Mary. She had done nothing wrong. In fact, she was wonderfully faithful. In giving herself to be the mother of the Messiah she was willing to sacrifice her reputation in order to honor the Lord. This makes her much more to be admired.
Many people have to endure things that were not their fault in life. It may be a birth defect; the family into which you were born; the shape of your body; your mental capacity or even the color of your skin. It may be an abusive childhood, malnutrition, or growing up in a broken home. Like Mary, God calls us to serve Him faithfully in spite of the circumstances or the pain that comes from those circumstances.
Second, Mary was engaged. Engagements in those days were different from today. An engagement was a contract often entered into by the two families. This contract was binding and as strong as the marriage covenant. An engagement was a promise that often included payment from parents.
Mary’s “surprise” pregnancy (Joseph and Mary would not have been living together) would have carried with it the implication and charge of adultery. Legally, Joseph could divorce her or even demand that she be stoned to death for her “obvious” infidelity. If you have ever been in a position where you believed your spouse had been unfaithful to you, you know how deep the sense of betrayal goes and how angry you can become.
Did Joseph yell? Did he say things because of the hurt that he would later regret? We don’t know the answer to the questions. However, we do know that it would have been a crisis.
Mary was risking her reputation and possibly even her life to have this child. She was putting her marriage to Joseph at risk. She could have easily been treated as an outcast by her family for the embarrassment she caused. I wonder, was she shunned by her parents? Did they lecture her? Were her in-laws against Joseph marrying her? Faithfulness is risky business.
She was taking on an enormous responsibility. Think about it. Mary is perhaps 14-16 years old. She is going to be the Mother of the long-awaited (for centuries) Messiah. Wouldn’t that task freak you out? We don’t know when the enormity of this task hit her but I believe by the time Jesus was born she was beginning to get the picture. What a responsibility! I can get freaked out trying to navigate traffic in Chicago! Mary was being asked to raise the Son of God! There was no greater responsibility.
I wonder if she was filled with a sense of insecurity, or did she implicitly trust that God would equip her for the job she had been called to do? Did she feel insufficient to instruct and raise the Messiah? Did she ever feel a sense of panic as she thought about the enormous responsibility that was being placed on her shoulders? I wouldn’t be surprised if she did.
As she looked at that baby in the manger did she feel inadequate or was she so taken by the baby in the manger that she didn’t think about anything else? I don’t have the answers but I do wonder. I wonder what was going on in that young mind of hers. I wonder what she was thinking as she gazed at her new baby.
Mary Speaks To Us
Mary’s experience can speak to us in our situation. First, she speaks to those who are falsely accused. Have you ever been in that situation where you were trying to do the right thing but your motives and actions were misrepresented and attacked rather than appreciated?
That was Mary’s situation. She responded to the Lord in wonderful and profound faith but in the eyes of the watching world she was seen as an “obviously” sinful woman. Mary reminds us that it is not always easy to follow the Lord. Sometimes we will be misrepresented. Every time that happens, it hurts.
Someone told me that it is a good idea to give people permission to misrepresent and misinterpret us. In other words, you need to accept the fact that people will not always understand what you are doing and why. This is good counsel. If we are honest we will admit that we often don’t understand what others are doing and we are guilty of misrepresenting them. And a good portion of the time we don’t even understand why WE are doing what WE are doing!
We can survive these times by reminding ourselves that God knows our heart. And, when all is said and done, that is the ONLY thing that matters. Throughout the Psalms the writers asked God to vindicate them or to treat them according to their righteousness (in that particular situation). They asked God to arbitrate and to rule. His judgment is all that ultimately matters.
In many of these cases our character and intention eventually shine through. People who know us may come to our defense. They know that misrepresentations are false. And isn’t this what happened with Mary? Over the course of time people came to understand that Mary was faithful, not unfaithful.
Second, Mary was given the awesome responsibility of being the Mother of the Messiah. That may not seem to be a big deal to you but think about it. She was entrusted with the Son of God! This is one child you don’t want to mess up! Even though Mary had great trust in God I have to think she felt a little overmatched by life at this point.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by life when
- Your Doctor says you have Cancer
- Your child has Leukemia
- Someone you love gets Alzheimer’s disease
- When you are sentenced to Prison or have to endure the sentence/separation of someone you love
- A loved one dies suddenly and you don’t know what to do
- You face unrealistic job expectations
- Your spouse tells you they no longer want to be married to you
- Your child has special needs
- Depression dogs your every step
- You battle an addiction
- You have a checkered past which has left you with a reputation or with very prominent scars.
- Your financial situation changes suddenly
We must face the truth: Life sometimes is overwhelming. And in these times you may feel you cannot survive. You may feel you are disqualified from serving the Lord You may even feel you are an embarrassment to the Father and in some sense worthless. Perhaps it will help you to remember that Mary may have felt this way too.
If we read the Bible attentively we notice something: God seems to routinely work through the underdog. Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery but God made him into a great leader in Egypt; Moses felt unequal to the task before him even trying to get God to appoint someone else and we know what God did through Moses. David was the youngest of the family and his brothers viewed him as unable to do anything. Yet it was this young boy defeated the giant that terrorized the Israelite army and eventually became the greatest earthly King of Israel.
Think about the stories of mothers who had children when they “couldn’t have children anymore” (Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth). Think of the outcasts who became disciples. Consider the fact that God choose for women (who at that time were seen more as property than as equal heirs of God’s grace) to be the first witnesses to the Resurrection. Prophets were raised up from common people who would have been unnoticed apart from God. The disciples were a ragtag group of men. God specializes in using people who feel inadequate for the job.
I think there is a reason for this. People who feel unqualified will rely on Him more fully than those who feel competent. It is when we feel most competent that we are most prone to idolatry and recklessness. We believe we don’t need to talk to the Lord anymore because we have it covered on our own. We actually begin to act like we don’t need His help.
The good news comes when we realize that God uses overwhelmed people all the time. He uses those who have no strength but who are willing to embrace His strength. This is where He shines the most.
Perhaps you sit here today believing that God could never use you. In fact, you may believe God could never LOVE you. You may have a past that you feel keeps you from being qualified to walk with Him. You may be in a situation that is so big that you feel completely overmatched. If you live long enough that will probably happen to you at one time or another.
It is in the times of weakness that we have the chance to show our faith. It is when we feel most inadequate that we find Him most faithful. It is when we feel most useless that God often taps us for His purposes. It is when we are willing to take a step of faith, unsure of where it is going to take us, that we get to experience the adventure of walking with God.
Mary was undeterred by these things. She did not hide. She was receptive to the Lord. Don’t you want to know how to become like Mary, willing to say: “May it be to me as you have said”?
It seems to me that we take a step in that direction when we focus on who is doing the asking rather than on who is being asked. In other words, as I read God’s Word, as I am confronted with opportunities, my response will differ depending on whether I am looking at my ability or the ability of the Lord. Mary recognized that it was the Lord who was talking to her. She trusted what the angel said and understood that her ability was irrelevant. She believed that the Lord saw what she did not and that the Lord could provide whatever she lacked.
I get into trouble when I focus on my ability to do a task. All I see are my weaknesses, insecurities and flaws. I also get in trouble when I arrogantly think I am equal to a task. Mary reminds us that we must focus on God’s strength rather than on our liabilities.
Second, we must trust God more than we trust our ability to understand or to “figure things out”. Think about it, what God was asking Mary to do could easily have been seen as “crazy”. It didn’t make sense. Why Mary and not a royal princess? Why a teenager and not someone a little more mature and experienced in life? It we must understand before we walk with God, we will spend a lot of time standing still.
Just recently someone told me that in the times when I am trying to “wrap my head around something” I am least likely to be living faithfully. Our need to understand and to know the how and why of life actually hinders the act of faith. We “need to understand”, because we want to be in control. We resist fully trusting Him. When we are in control, He is not.
So if we want to emulate the faithfulness of Mary we will open the Bible and listen rather than argue. We will obey without having to understand. We will say yes before we have all the answers. That will difficult for us to do but it is the only way to truly live by faith.
Mary is a great example for us. This young woman stepped out in faith. It wasn’t easy. She probably had moments where she wondered what she had gotten herself into. There may have been nights when she cried herself to sleep. However, she shows us that all God needs is a willing heart. Whatever we lack, He will gladly and effectively supply. And if we will dare to trust Him, He will not only change us, He might just change the world.