Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Prepare for Jesus' Coming: Advent Thoughts on Mary

Although the month of December flies by; it seems there is never enough time to do all the extra preparations Christmas requires. But, for children the wait to “open their presents and to check what’s under the tree after Santa comes” can seem like a million years!

The Jews felt that way too; as they waited for the long awaited Messiah to come. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jews had not heard from God for almost 500 years. They were desperate for a prophet to arise and for the Messiah to come, especially to relieve them of their oppression from the Roman government.

This was the environment of the Jewish people when Mary, a young woman of probably 14 or 15 years old, was surprised by the Angel Gabriel. Tradition has it that she was out in the stable feeding the animals when the Angel spoke, “Greetings, you are highly favored, the Lord is with you.”

Mary was very confused. She knew that she was a young woman from a relatively unknown village called Nazareth, far away from Jerusalem, the center of spiritual life for the Jews. Her family was poor, but had recently completed the engagement process to her future husband, Joseph the Carpenter. She was probably very uneducated as young women from poor families received little schooling.

How could she be “highly favored?” The Angel Gabriel told her again, “You have found favor with God.” That’s twice. Mary knew it couldn’t be from anything special that she had done. It had to be something else.

We’ve spoken of “kairos moments” a lot recently in Missio Lux. A kairos moment is when we have an “aha” that helps us to understand that God is breaking through, teaching us something new that will result in a different way of thinking, which leads to a greater life of faith through action.

The fact that Mary was told twice by the angel that she was “highly favored” was an extreme kairos moment for Mary. Her perception of herself was like many of ours. She was a poor young girl, meant to live a life of relative obscurity, in a far off Jewish village.

She understood, however, that when the Angel Gabriel came to tell her the good news that she was to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah, that God had a different standard from which to view us. He looks at our lives of faith, not our earthly circumstances.

God chose Mary because he knew that she would respond in faith to his challenge for her to carry and birth the Messiah. God knew that it would take tremendous courage for Mary to do this: she would face doubt, ridicule, rejection, and a life of challenge and pain in her role of Jesus’ mother.

After Mary got her practical question answered of how she would become pregnant, her response models for us what a life of faith can be: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Yes, I will do it. Your purposes are much bigger than mine. Even though I can’t see the road yet, I will say yes to you in faith.”

This is the part I love about the story. The Angel Gabriel told Mary about her cousin Elizabeth carrying John the Baptist. It is likely that Mary’s family didn’t even know that Elizabeth was pregnant; communication wasn’t as easy as it is today!

Mary knew after her “kairos encounter” with the Angel Gabriel that she needed to go and be with Elizabeth. God provided a place of support and community for Mary to give her the strength to carry out her “God assignment.”

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months. I often think about what their conversations must have been.
“Elizabeth, I am so scared. What will my parents say?”

“Elizabeth, what is Joseph doesn’t believe me and breaks off the engagement?”

“Elizabeth, how will we ever know how to raise these sons?”

“Elizabeth, how should I begin to tell people? Who should I tell first?”

Elizabeth was God’s gift to Mary as someone to confide in, a person walking a similar journey of extreme faith, and someone that was able to confirm that Mary truly was carrying the Messiah.
When Mary entered Elizabeth’s home, she exclaimed in a loud voice, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”

It all comes down to faith.

This advent season is a time for us to seriously consider how God is calling us to respond to the kairos moments of our lives. We will probably experience fear along the way, doubts of how it can happen, struggles with how we explain it to those around us.

But, as we remember Jesus’ name “Immanuel: God with us,” we are given the companionship for the journey. We don’t need to have the whole map to walk the journey of faith; we have the One who created the map walking it out with us.

Immanuel is both our invitation and our challenge. Our invitation is to believe that “He is God with us.” Our challenge is to believe that “He is God with us.” As we respond in faith, we begin to understand that much of what seems like a mountain to us is a simple answer to God.

Merry Christmas, the Savior is Born!

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