What did Mary feel as she set out to Bethlehem on a donkey; what was going through her mind? Did she trust Joseph to take the fastest route, be the best labor coach and stick a special encouragement note in her labor bag to read right before the transition stage of labor? If the Bible read more like the popular “Birth Partner” book maybe we’d get an answer or two of this nature but instead we get a deeper glimpse into her heart of what sustained her through that long, difficult journey and unexpected place she gave birth.
In the next 16 days I will be taking my own journey toward Bethlehem, with a babe in my womb. My ride will be a cushy minivan and our road interstate 4 (which feels as comfortable as riding on a donkey when you’re having contractions. Thank you construction. Thank you most dangerous highway in America. Thank you each bump that reminds me there’s a baby coming.) My labor bag is half packed and my heart is half prepared. I keep thinking that during this Advent season I’ll have an “ah ha” moment which leads me to tender peace and joyful expectation of welcoming our son into the world. However, it hasn’t come. That’s why Mary intrigues me.
Mary’s joy and strength doesn’t come from having the details of her birth planned out or a fairytale wedding or even having her family around her to help. But, she doesn’t hide her initial surprise over the Angel of the Lord unrolling God’s plan:
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” -Luke, chapter 1
The young, engaged-to-be-married Mary replies, “how will this be since I am a virgin? (ch. 1 v. 34)” Could she have been thinking about the ramifications of being pregnant before she was married (stoning? disgrace? getting thrown out of her community?)? Could she be wondering how she’d actually get pregnant (like a prophet announcing how she and Joseph would succumb to the temptation that faces so many young couples who are in love? Or a situation against her will?)? I don’t know what was behind her question but she was honest and quick to ask.
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
The angel clearly answers that this is God’s plan; his doing. The holy one she’ll carry will be called the Son of God, and as to back up this incredible claim, God shares that Mary’s elderly* cousin is pregnant for the first time. Oh to have God speak to her so clearly about His plan for the hard days to come, and His ability to do the miraculous in her life and in Elisabeth’s life. The angel ends with the ultimate seal, “For no word from God will ever fail.”
Mary’s response to God speaking to her through the angel brings tears to my eyes,
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled” (v 38).
I am the Lord’s servant. Her response is so simple and yet profound. She seems to be pouring her life out before Him and simply stating a holy abandon of her plans, dreams and hopes. She abandons it all to her Lord, her Master. She rightly sees her life as subject to God’s holiness and His right, yes right, to “interrupt” and do as He wills in her life. She is His servant. Mary’s response isn’t a begrudging, “O.K., fine. I guess I’ll go down this road because you told me to, and surly there will be something good in it for me.” No, her response isn’t self-motivated. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” She’s embracing and welcoming and submitting to the plan laid out to her.
Oh the conviction is deep on so many levels in my own life. So tightly I have held to my ideals or visions of what should be and or what I think I deserve in life. And when my life gets “interrupted,” I get rocked. If I scratch a bit deeper at my heart, it isn’t interruption that’s really the problem, it is my lack of trust in my Master, my Lord, the holy one. Can I trust that though I want something so badly, even good things, like the healing of a little one’s frail, premature lungs or a family to grow old together and not deal with the devastation of a drunk driver on their shattered family- even in that, can I trust that my Master is trustworthy?
Go deeper. Go to the depths of your heart. Yes, your heart aches for others but what are the interruptions of your soul that have been buried and create a distrust or distance with God? Mary was troubled and she asked, “how can this be?” And, God spoke to her about it. These are places we need to be willing to lay bare, so when the time comes we can say, “I am your servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.”
For me, one of the deep places I need to lay bare before my Master, again, is the loss of our little Anna Louise a year ago. How can I hope to hold our little Theodore (yep, you caught that, that was my big reveal of our soon-to-be-born son’s name!) when there are no guarantees that I will? My response has been to harden my heart to hope and hold my breath until he’s born. But I’m going to go through my life holding my breath because I’ve learned that every stinkin’ day there are no guarantees that Jack, Lexie, Chloe, Anna Louise and Theodore will be “safe.” And, we all know if you hold your breathe too long you eventually pass out. I don’t want to pass out; I want to live embracing that my Master has a good plan for my life, though it includes miscarriage, dysfunctional relationships and a longing to be known that rarely is met by another human. Oh to trust my Master.
This is where it’d be great if I could wrap a bow on my thoughts like Joanna Gaines wraps gifts for her girlfriends, but I can’t. I’m in process like all you yahoos! But I took a step this morning to be honest, to scratch deeper and let the tears come. (Tears are so healing.) Would you be willing to do the same, and if you’re married and have young ones, may your spouse take the kids for a minute (or 45) so you can sit before your Master.
Oh God, help me to have fellowship with Mary’s heart today. Lead me to bring to you others’ hurts but also my own deep aches that keep me from being able to say, “Yes, Master. Let it be. I trust you.” Show me how to rejoice and anticipate getting to hold my beautiful baby boy, while holding your hand through the fear of loss. Oh Daddy, thank You for meeting me here this morning.
May this advent season be a time of preparing our hearts to welcome Jesus and the hope that God promises through the holy one, the Son of God.
*Elderly. (If you missed the reference in my post, it refers to Mary’s cousin, Elisabeth.) A quick, and humorous note on what is considered elderly today. Apparently, I am, at least when it comes to having babies. This flattering term showed up on my order for blood work doing my pregnancy. “AMA” is also a term that I’ve learned: “advanced maternal age.” Yep, after 35 you get this stamped on your medical documents. Good to know. Can I at least get a 10% discount at Goodwill on Tuesdays if you’re going to call me elderly? Or a free muffin at Perkins if I show up (with my four kids under six) before 6 A.M.? Give us all free muffins and mom a good cortado (if you don’t know what this is, please order it next time you’re at a coffee shop. It brings me instantly back to my neighborhood café in Paris. Yum.)
Ok, one last thing. If you’re looking to dive deeper into the grief of loss in your soul, this a great book:
“Grace Disguised” by Jerry Sittser. Sittser writes about his journey to the edge of atheism and back after losing his mother, wife and one of his four children in a car accident. I found his words a reflection of the places in my soul that have doubted. It isn’t reserved only for those who have lost a loved one but for those who are grieving any number of losses: a job, a marriage, or the like. It’s a short book with short chapters, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming.