When Life Feels Stuck [6/6]
This is the next instalment in a series of posts from Howard and Holly. Read the first parts here.
Bow Down | Mary | Luke 1:26-38
The tinsel is starting to appear. The Oxford Street lights are on. It’s that festive time of year again and as schools and churches scramble to organise their children into the annual nativity. Every little girl is hoping that this is her ‘Mary year’. Our four-year-old daughter is no different, hoping to rise the ranks from the less glamorous role of ‘Sheep’ last year. It’s seen as a declaration of status for the parents as much as the children – a sign your child is well-behaved enough to be trusted not to embarrass the school, and intelligent enough to be able to learn and recall their lines. Yes, let’s be honest, in the world of mums, the mum of Mary reigns during December.
How comical this would all seem to the real Mary, or her mother. I very much doubt that pride or status was something that either of them enjoyed much of during their earthly lives following the angel’s visit. In a society with such a strongly entrenched honour and shame culture, the perceived illegitimacy of Jesus (conceived before she married Joseph) would have marked and followed her, her family and possibly her community. It would isolate and ostracise her.
We all have dreams for ourselves and our children, and whilst we know they won’t all be realised, we usually expect that the future will somehow be better and brighter. What happens when God asks you to accept a future like this? What happens when your purpose in His plan is heavy on the suffering and light on the comfort? When you feel stuck in a future well-below what you had hoped for?
Mary wonders, and then she bows down and faithfully accepts God’s call on her life.
We’d do well to follow her sense of wonder: in our minds, at our Saviour and Lord, and for eternity.
Wonder – In Our Minds
As well as being the sought-after nativity role, Mary was a real human being and reacted like most human beings would to the sudden arrival of an angel, especially one telling her that she would supernaturally conceive the Son of God – she was ‘troubled’, and her first words were understandably ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’.
Mary isn’t naïve. She isn’t led by blind irrational faith. The bible says that she ‘wondered’ what kind of greeting this was – in the Greek that word means ‘to make an audit’. Mary is rational and thoughtful. When she responds in faith, she does so having engaged her mind and intellect to the point that she is satisfied that, whilst she might not fully understand all of what is to come, this is God’s message, and this is an angel. Likewise, when called to serve or do something for God, we must first make an audit to be certain that we are hearing God’s voice, and then respond in faith.
Wonder – At Our Saviour and Lord
The angel explains more of what will come to pass and finishes in verse 37 with the wonderful line “For nothing will be impossible for God”. Mary’s response is to recognise that God truly is the Lord of her life, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” Mary already knows that for God all things are possible; she’s heard of how God gave Sarah and Abraham a child in old age, guided her people out of Egypt by parting the Red Sea, guided them through the wilderness by a pillar of cloud and column of fire, saved Daniel from the lions and so many other miracles. She serves the Lord who created the universe. What wonders He has done! She can trust and put her faith in God, nothing will be impossible for Him. If He says she will bear the Saviour of the world, then she can trust Him to bring it to pass and that her sacrifice will never be wasted.
Unlike Mary, we know the details of what comes in the years ahead. We can wonder at the love and mercy of a Saviour who would willingly give up His place in heaven to come to earth to live among us and die a horrendous death to save us. How can Mary, or our, sacrifices even begin to compare to His? How can we not bow down and surrender in love in response to His grace?
Wonder – For Eternity
Lastly, we can wonder at the eternity that awaits us beyond this life where there will be no sickness or suffering. We will be with God and there will be no more need for sacrifice, though our earthly faithfulness will have earned us reward and a wonderful ‘well done’ from the Father. Mary is reminded of the promise of this life through the Saviour in verse 33 – “and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Our sacrifice may seem large now, but eternity has a habit of changing the way we see things. The future of disgrace that Mary embraced has already turned to one of honour, and Jesus hasn’t even returned yet. We can have faith to persevere in our call, to bow down and say ‘yes’ to the plan we wouldn’t have chosen because we know that this isn’t the end. It isn’t forever but it may play a part in winning others into that forever.
So, when you’re at your nativity this Christmas – be it the church one, your child’s one or a friend’s one – watch as ‘Mary’ holds the baby Jesus, gently swaddles him and kisses his head. Not a burden or a sacrifice that would trap her, but a beloved and precious gift. A privilege to delight in and treasure in her heart. Please God, let us see the difficult calls you ask of us with the same joy and devotion, and become unstuck.
Photo with credit to The Bible film (2015).