This past Sunday I asked the teenage girls in my small group to imagine getting the news that Mary received when she was visited by the angel. For them, stepping into Mary's shoes would be a small step. Most of them are in circumstances similar to Mary's in many ways:
They are young, innocent, from deeply religious families--on the brink of adult life, but not quite ready.
What would their response be if they were told that they would become pregnant--supernaturally, but out of wedlock? (I know unmarried pregnancy is not so scandalous these days, but these are Southern Baptists...) How would they feel to receive today the news that Mary got? God Himself was going to be placed within her, grow, expand her, pain her as she brought Him into the world...and ultimately save us all.
How would they react if they received this news:
"God is going to use you to save the world, but it is going to hurt on every level. But--GOD is going to use YOU to save. the. world."
My point in stirring their imaginations was to show them the beauty of Mary's response. Faced with such daunting, life-altering news, she sang the Magnificat--a beautiful hymn of praise, trust and celebration.
"Blessed am I...."
Today as I sit in the quiet and think on the nativity again, I am floored by this thought:
I'm no teenager, but I am more like Mary than I realize.
Having repented and followed Christ, I am like Mary in that I received God within me though the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
God Himself is within me, and if I allow it--if I nourish and attend to the Spirit, He will grow and stretch me. As a result, I'll experience great excitement, purpose, anticipation and joy--but the stretching will also bring discomfort.
When I share the Spirit in me with the world, it will very likely cause me pain. This world is certainly a place that often shouts, "No room!" to His presence. The current culture has no problem with the Universe looking out for me, but squirms if I claim the God of the universe does. Therefore, for me--an educated woman from an intellectual and scientific community-- to follow the God of the Bible will no doubt bring me disdain in the eyes of many whom I value. Disdain hurts.
So, I realize today I must ask myself the same question I asked the teenagers:
What will my response be to the news that God has chosen me to carry His Son to the world?
Will I fear the discomfort, attempt to escape the pain, and lament the heavy load I carry within?
Or will I--in spite of it all--be awed by the reality that God would use me to save the world.
Oh, Jesus, let the words and heart of that young Mary also be the response of this old Mary:
"Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl...."
Every January I spend some time thinking about what should be my "word" for the year. That may sound cheesy, but intentionality is not my strong suit, so I've found the practice a good one. One word, well-chosen, reminds me of an important focus for the year and guides my decision-making and prioritizing. This year that task was tough. Nearly into February, I was still without a word, still without a focus. Then one morning, as often happens, something in the Word jumped out at me: "On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he restedfrom all his work." --Genesis 2:2
First God finished. Then He rested. Honestly, the word that first grabbed me was FINISHED. Maybe that was my word: FINISH. I reasoned that God had earned the right to rest, because He had finished His work. Perhaps I needed to focus on finishing things. Great idea, great word, but the thought of it left me feeling weighed down and on the verge of tears. Because, really, does a wife. a mom, a teacher EVER finish? Truth be told, I was not resting because I never felt finished. The problem is that I tend to view my roles as a continual and unending work that will not be finished until the kids are grown, until I retire, and until death do us part. And frankly, I wasn't so sure I could make it to "finished" if I didn't get some rest! Here's the thing: The Bible doesn't end at Genesis 2. A whole lot of Book comes after Genesis, and it's ALL the work of God. Not only that, I'm living proof that He is STILL working in this world. What God finished before he rested was the work of creation. One work. Granted, that work was pretty impressive, but it was not His entire work for all of eternity. He finished that work, then He rested. He didn't quit.
In viewing the "big picture" things of life as what had to be finished before I could rest, I was actually hurting my work and God's work in me. The cost of never resting is an overwhelming desire to just quit. What a relief to read more closely, to let God show me the Heart behind His words. Yes, I need to finish what I start, and a rest feels much more blissful when it comes after a hard effort that is completed. The rest, however, is just as much a part of the ultimate work as the finishing. Therefore, what I need to give myself permission to do is rest after finishing "the work of _____________." Then, with the satisfaction of one job complete and a well-earned rest, I am refreshed to continue in the Great Work to which God has called me.
"Because He was full of grace and truth, from Him we all received one gift after another." John 1:16
This was my memory verse this week. Not to simply repeat, but to meditate upon.
Because Jesus was full of grace, He made it possible for me--and you--to receive what we don't deserve, the favor and presence of God Almighty.
This is a BIG HONKING DEAL.
However, I'm not sure we can fully fathom the magnitude of His grace unless we also remember the truth part. My pastor's son, also a pastor, preached it in a way that resonated this Sunday.
"The key to doing all the things you should do...is that you can't do it." How's that for a feel-good truth?
It is, really, because once I realize that I can't do what is required, I can marvel at the wonder that Christ has done it for me. Unless I grasp the truth that I am capable of nothing that is holy, unless I see the truth of who I am without Christ, I can't fully absorb the magnitude of the grace that He has showered upon me.
Without the ugly truth about me, I can't appreciate the utterly magnificent grace of Christ.
I experienced this truth in a very vivid way last week.
I was innocently folding laundry when some very unpleasant memories just popped into my brain. UGLY memories of something awful I did as a young teenager. And then that memory set off another, and another, and, unfortunately, my misguided youth provided ample fodder for a complete avalanche of memories of my depravity.
Imagine a version of the FB movie--with only the bad things. Yeah, it was that--only longer.
The realization of who I was without Christ rammed right into my solar plexus and knocked me down. It sucked the air right out of me to realize just how rotten I was capable of being. This should not have been a great revelation to me, but it was.
You see, normally I have this talent for completely forgetting anything that is unpleasant, and frankly, there are many things in my past that I prefer to forget. (Don't get me wrong, I had a safe, happy childhood and was well loved by two wonderful people--it's ME that was horrible.)
I truly was rotten, but I was a bit stunned to realize just how rotten, because I've always been so nice. Parents didn't really fret if their kids hung out with me. (They probably should have.) Anyway, it's a bit of a shocker for a pathologically nice person to be faced with the fact that her pleasant temperament was just a sweet coating around a selfish, dishonest, nature.
That day as I folded and the memories flooded back, I was undone.
Honestly, I don't know why on that day I had those memories. My first instinct was that my enemy was accusing--pointing the finger to show me how unworthy I am to even attempt to serve Jesus. Maybe it was, but he should have known better. Because as soon as that thought crossed my mind, the realization hit me that my unworthiness is sort of the point of the Gospel.
Jesus shouldn't use me. But He does.
And those sickening memories--as unpleasant as they were, turned out to be a gift.
In remembering who I was apart from Christ, I was amazed at where He has brought me. I hated looking at the picture of the past, but it helped me see that that person, is no longer who I am. I'm still in progress, but I really am a new creation.
He loved me as I was, but He didn't leave me that way.
It was a gift to feel the full weight of my sin, because it helped me to grasp the full weight of the Gospel.
Can I just tell you---it is an unspeakably awesome thing to stand before a holy God, undone, and say, "I am not worthy," and to feel His gentle whisper, "I know. But you're mine."