“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’” – Luke 2:33 – 35
Last month our pastor wrapped up his series on loving people with a message titled, “Love loses”, highlighting the pain and cost that sometimes comes with the call to love and why it is still worth it. That message carries over so well into the Christmas story and is exemplified in the life and ministry of Mary, mother of Jesus. She chose a life of incredibly painful love that lost over and over again until it won everything.
Because some faiths have deified Mary and get a little out there in their veneration of her, the protestant knee-jerk response has been to swing the pendulum the opposite way and give her no recognition outside of the cresh that graces our mantle a few weeks a year. But in doing this, we miss out on one of the most interesting and 5th most talked about person (After Jesus, John, Peter, and Paul) in the New Testament, and the lessons that we can learn from her life and responses to God.
I love the song, Mary did you know? The last thing I want to do is ruin a holiday favorite for anyone. When the Pentatonix cover comes over the radio and they sing out, “The praises of the lamb!” in perfect harmony it moves my soul. But if you really want to know the answer to that question theologically, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” (Luke 1:26-38)
What do we know about Mary?
- We don’t know Mary’s exact age when the angel came to visit her, but based on the average age for Jewish girls getting betrothed and married in that time period she was between 13 and 16.
- Mary was most likely poor and illiterate. The offering made by Joseph and Mary when dedicating Jesus at the temple was the alternative offering allowed to poor people. (Luke 2:23-24. Lev. 5:7) Being female, young, and from a poor part of Israel, it would have been unheard of for her to be able to read, and yet she knew scripture well enough to quote it from memory in its appropriate context while visiting Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55) implying she dedicated herself to hearing the scriptures read.
- She was engaged to Joseph. Bethrothals back then weren’t like modern engagements that you could just walk away from. They were legally binding contracts that involved years of planning, networking, negotiating, dowries and some betrothals could last years before the wedding ceremony took place.
- She lived in a time and culture where being found out to be pregnant outside of marriage could have been grounds for her stoning.
- Mary was a deep thinker. Twice the Bible makes reference to her habit of “Pondering these things in her heart.”
No imagine this young new mom, with all the motherly love and fierce protective nature in the world, holding her infant son, looking down at him while they rock, gently stroking his forehead as he drifts off to sleep knowing everything that is going to happen to him. The scripture she was so familiar with included detailed prophesies of the fate the Messiah would suffer at the hands of a people who would hate and reject Him. That’s love that hurts. That’s love that has to lose to win. And Mary was obedient to love that way.
What can we learn from Mary’s life?
- Let God interrupt the life you had planned for yourself.
Mary had plans. She was going to marry a nice man, have some children, raise them to follow God, live the picket-fence dream. Those were all great plans. But when God showed up and asked her to give up everything, her friends, her reputation, her future, her response was, “Let it be to me according to what you have said.” (Luke 1:38) It was much like the, “Not my will, but yours be done” that Jesus said to the Father before going to the cross. (Matt 26:39)
- The very thing we think disqualifies us from being used by God is the very thing He is looking to use.
Mary only had one question for the angel, “How can this be because I am a virgin?” She thought that disqualified her from bearing the Messiah, but God wanted to work exactly within that setback to prove that it was HIM at work. In the same way, God uses us specifically in our weaknesses, shortcomings, inabilities, so that HE can be glorified. If you think you don’t have the qualifications, the finances, the education, the social skills, the speaking ability to do the things God has put on your heart to do, you’re in the perfect place in life to say Yes to Him anyway.
- Mary praised God knowing hard times were about to be upon her.
Mary knew her life was about to get real crappy, and instead of cowering in fear, she sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord”. (Luke 1:46) She didn’t even know if her fiancé was going to enact his legal right to call for her stoning when she broke the news to Him and here she is going on about how much God has blessed her and lifted her from her humble existence.
- “Favor” isn’t what we think it is.
The prosperity doctrine that has permeated western Christian culture makes us think that the favor of the Lord is health, wealth, a picket fence life. It’s when you put on that jacket you haven’t worn since last winter and stick your hand on the pocket and ope! $20 dollar bill! Woo Favor! Or, getting that parking spot in front of Costco on a Saturday. God must love me more than thee. Hashtag blessed! The original word used for “Favor” in this story is actually “To bestow grace upon”. That grace Mary was to receive was an empowerment from the Holy Spirit to do the hard stuff she was going to have to do. If you have an expectation that your life is supposed to be sunshine and roses when you’re following Christ because the Bible talks about the favor he gives to his children, you’re going to big surprise coming. But He does promise us that He will give us what we need to go through everything He takes us through. He doesn’t skimp on the favor.
- Ask, knowing that God can!
I love the story of the wedding at Cana, and not just because I’m a sucker for a good Merlot. Culturally, it was shameful and rude for a host to run out of wine at a wedding, and Mary, in her compassion, didn’t want to see their hosts suffer that humiliation. Mary knew what Jesus was capable of. She saw a need in others and contended with the one she knew could remedy the situation. She continued to push until God answered her request and directed others to do what Jesus said.
- Follow Christ when no one else will.
Mary remained at Jesus’ side when everyone else left. She stayed with Him until he breathed his last. The crowds left him, the “cool” wore off, the people turned on him, but she stayed. Didn’t care what anyone thought. Following Jesus isn’t really cool right now. The further away our culture gets from Christianity, the greater the cost of following Christ, and the stranger it seems to say yes to Him. Mary didn’t care. She knew who He was and she was going to follow him to matter what. She was the only person to be with Jesus for His first breath as well as His last.
- What God says can be trusted – no matter how impossible it seems
Mary and Sarah were both told they were to conceive in miraculous ways: Mary as a virgin, and Sarah in her 90s. Sarah scoffed at God and dismissed it as impossible. Mary accepted what the angel told her knowing God was just have to going to do something out of the ordinary to see this happen, and she was praised for her faith.
- Jesus is always worth it.
Even if it costs you everything, Jesus is always worth the cost. He whom cost Mary everything gave her more than she every could have had without Him. Likewise, losing ourselves in obedience to Christ causes us to find life that we never could have imagined otherwise.