It’s Christmas season and the three weeks of Advent, the week we speak of the spirit of joy. I think many of us struggle with rejoicing during this holiday season. There’s beauty in life but there’s also hard. And sometimes we wonder what’s the point. I think it’s fitting that it’s now we talk about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary’s life was not easy and yet she trusted, she rejoiced. To trust means to have faith when you can’t see. (Hebrews 11:1) She trusted what was unusual in her life, the difficult journey of her life, and that through her life God was bringing hope, healing, and life to the world.
We heard Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1. Mary had no Bible training, yet she’s the first one in Luke’s Gospel to interpret Scripture. She quoted Scriptures from Gen 17:19, Deut 10:17-18, Psalms 24:7, Hab. 3:18, etc. In the Magnificat, she declared the Good News that God was breaking in and establishing his kingdom on earth. King Jesus was coming. Caesar was out; Jesus was in. If Caesar heard her, she’d be killed. If King Herod heard her, she’d be killed. The Magnificat is a subversive fighter’s song. In the 1980s the government of Guatemala banned any public reciting of it because it was deemed politically subversive. She goes on to say she’s blessed to be a part of God’s plan to change the world.
Luke uses Mary as the prototype for what it means to follow Jesus. Later in Luke 5, Peter’s response to Jesus’ invitation to follow him reflected Mary’s response to the angel Gabrielle.
Don’t miss it – this Good News Mary speaks of – she says she’s blessed because she’s a part of it. Favored, blessed. God is with her, and she said he has done great things for her. When we hear someone is blessed or God is with them or they are favored, we tend to think that means they are in good health, have financial stability, a good job, their relationships are good, or they are safe in their space.
But when we look at Mary’s life, we’re challenged to reconsider what it means to be favored, to be blessed.
Mary is young, most likely between the ages of 13-16.
She lived in a “no nothing” town, and she was a woman of lowly status with no family pedigree; notice Luke mentions Joseph is from the line of King David but nothing about Mary. (Luke 1:27) He’s someone; she’s no one – a nobody from nowhere. Yet God used this young woman to give birth to the Son of the Most High, the savior of the world.
Most women rejoice when they hear they are pregnant. But for Mary being pregnant was not “good news.” She’s not married. A baby out of wedlock would bring shame, dishonor, and a ruined reputation; she could even be stoned to death.
And how will she conceive? By the Holy Spirit. Again I’d be freaking out. Imagine.
And what was that conversation with Joseph like? “Um, I’m pregnant but not by another man, but by the Holy Spirit.” Like right!
While very pregnant, she traveled on a donkey. (Ouch.)
She had no other woman present for the delivery. No mother, sister, or aunt to look her in the eye and help her navigate this painful experience.
She goes to the Temple to dedicate baby Jesus. Simon tells her that her son will bring salvation to the world, but he will also divide the nation of Israel; being his parent will be “like a sword that will pierce their very soul.” (Luke 2:35)
Herod’s threat forced her to go on the run.
She left her home and friends. When my firstborn son Hunter was 2, we’d were friends with other moms and their two-year-olds. What was it like to leave knowing your friend Susie’s son was killed because Herod wanted your son?
Mary, Joseph, and their 2-year-old traveled to a foreign country where they lived as refugees. Couldn’t speak the language. Offered only the lowly jobs and rat-infested housing. Not accustomed to the food. Despised for their religion and faced prejudice for being Jews.
There was fear of what the future holds without family and friends.
Finally, they were able to come home. What must that have been like? Hope. Restoration. Family. Familiarity. Normal life ensued…for a while.
Then Jesus went missing. Several days he’s in the Temple, and Mary was worried sick.
I left Madison behind in the grocery store. It was not safe; I just forgot her. When I realized I had left her behind, I panicked. Can you imagine your child going missing for a few days? Mary’s journey back to the city of Jerusalem must have been full of fearful thoughts. “Did someone harm him?” “Where did he sleep last night?” “Is he starving?” “Does he think we deserted him?” “Is he scared?” These are the thoughts that flow through the mind of every mother.
In Mark 3:30 we read that later people were saying that Jesus was possessed, crazy. I wonder how this impacted Mary. No mother likes it when others say ugly things about their child. Did she feel shame? Did she ever wonder if it was true, even for a second?
In John 7 we read where Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in him. Listen to their cynicism. “Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!’ For even his brothers didn’t believe in him.” (7:3-5)
I have three children. More than once they’ve been at each other. I know what it feels like to have your children fighting with each other. To not like each other. Disgusted with one another. It’s upsetting. A mother feels torn. A mother tries to bring peace to the home. Mary’s sons were at odds. That must have been hard.
We don’t know for sure, but it’s thought that somewhere at this time Joseph died. If so, then Mary is now a widow. In her culture, the oldest son is responsible for caring for her in her old age. He is her Social Security.
Consider what her older son is doing for a living. He’s freeloading off others and talking about kingdom stuff. How will he care for her, provide for her?
And the pang that she must have felt when she went to see Jesus, and his response to hearing that she was waiting outside for him was “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? Look, these are my mothers and brothers.” (Mark 3:32-35)
“Mother” is a sacred title. Only three people in the world have the right to call me Mom – Hunter, Hampton, and Madison. And I have fed them, bathed them, and cleaned up after their vomit. I have made sure they have gotten their schooling. I gave much of myself to their care. I would be offended if they now denied me as their mother. I can’t imagine how Jesus’ words must have stung.
Notice I haven’t even gotten to Passion Week? I can’t even go there. I have never lost a child. I don’t intend to pretend that I can even comprehend what that is like for a mother.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is called blessed because she gave birth to Jesus. God’s son. Our Savior. Had she not, we would not be here. We can follow Jesus because of her life because she was willing to say yes to God even when it meant suffering.
At a very young age, she trusted what was unusual in her life and that her difficult journey was part of God’s fulfillment for his redeeming the whole world.
And God gave her glimpses of what was coming. Elizabeth pregnant in her old age was a glimpse of hope that he is at work even if it appeared like he was not. And later he turned water into wine – another glimpse – and then the resurrection! Living proof that God was working to redeem, restore, and reconcile all things back to the way he intended.
In Rome, there is a building with art on the ceiling. You go in all dark. Put a coin in the box, and the light goes on for a few seconds giving a glimpse. Awe, beauty, wonder. This is what we have – glimpses of glory. We need those glimpses of glory, times when God lets us see through a thin veil that he’s still on his throne. He’s still bringing about his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. And Christmas is a time we can hold tight to that hope.
We need them. So today as you move about, look, watch, grab those moments. They are God saying, “You are blessed. I am with you. And I am still at work.”