One thing I love about Christmas is hearing Luke’s account of the birth of Christ, again. Haven’t I heard it every Christmas? I remember my grandfather’s deep voice reading it on Christmas Eve while I, with knees against my chest and sitting on the living room carpet next to many cousins, listened in full attention to the story which told the real reason for the magic behind the twinkling lights and cinnamon rolls oozing with spices and sugar melted together.
That iconic passage always began with the same words:
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’”
I don’t know how it is for little boys but as a girl, I always felt in awe of Mary.
What made her so special? How did it feel to be her? She was always food for thought and she is again this Christmas season.
Nativity figures of Mary have distilled her life into a few moments that show her in the essence of her calling. My nativity shows her peaceful face looking down in reverence at the little baby in a manager. We hear her faithful words to the angel Gabriel and shiver at the power of her magnificat. It’s easy to forget that these moments were punctuations in the greater essay of her life. In reality, her life didn’t freeze into a blissful nativity scene the night Jesus was born. In fact, I can almost see her shooing away a sheep curiously snuffling her ears as she tried to catch a few moments of sleep while Jesus slumbered. Daily life meets the divine call. The high points are essential but they are not the common fare of life.
Isn’t this the way it is for all who are “favored by God” with work to do for Him? The Word says that “good works have been prepared in advance for us to do.” When we catch a vision of what that is we are exhilarated. How fantastic to discover that the God of the universe has created us not only with love but with a purpose as unique as our fingerprints. We rejoice. We make plans. We wait for our work to unfold before us. How long do these moments of inspiration and conviction last? A day? Maybe a week? How often do they return to remind us what all our hard work is for? How thrilled Mary must have felt when the wise men arrived with gifts! What a confirmation of God’s Word for her! The Bible tells us she “hid all these things in her heart.” Did these memories encourage her as they fled the murderous hand of Herod? Did she hang onto them during the long, long trip to Egypt and the years of separation in a foreign land? Did she feel “favored of God” when others whispered about how soon Jesus was born after their marriage.
Do we hold onto our moments of inspiration when the implications of the calling begin to show themselves? More importantly do we remember that we are “favored by God” to have work to do?
As I begin this new year, I want to remember what an honor it is to work for the Lord. He has favored me with a husband, four children, relatives who need me, a lonely elderly neighbor, a home. When my life is past there will be no memory of the hard day-to-day work it took to be faithful. What I hope remains is figurine-like memory of me captured in the essence of my calling. Me, looking reverently at Jesus, willing to love Him and do whatever loving Him entails. Holding onto the special moments of surety when drudgery tempts me to forget. Like Mary.