Reimagining Mary

The Nativity scene.

Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:30)

Sweet Mary. Beatific, maternal, pale and serene, she appears quite other-worldly in our Christmas nativities. An angel proclaimed that she would be called “blessed,” and so she has been. From time to time she has even been elevated beyond her human state, a sort of demi-goddess, interceding between earth and heaven, the perfect mother of a perfect Son.

 

At the risk of shocking your sensibilities, I want to suggest a different portrait altogether. Mary is a well-known celebrity today, but she began as a nobody. Before God approached her through the Angel Gabriel, she counted for very little. She was probably an adolescent, probably poor, possibly an orphan, but we really don’t know. Like thousands of young Jewish girls of her time and place, she walked unnoticed through the world, valuable largely as an extra pair of hands. Her life was measured by her utility, and she was nothing special in that regard. Picture her in your mind as not particularly beautiful, not particularly bright, not particularly talented. Pockmarks, acne, missing teeth, a bit clumsy, too talkative, her laugh annoying, her gait ungainly, all these are possible. Perhaps it feels blasphemous to see her that way, but it is probably closer to the truth than the enhanced, marbleized and haloed versions we typically imagine. Her son, fashioned from only one set of human genes, “had no beauty that we should desire him.” (Is. 53:2)

 

Mary found inexplicable favor with God. This she was told when she received the gift of the Christ, placed inside her body by the singular action of the Holy Spirit. He approached her, chose her, implanted divinity inside her, that she might bear God’s only Son into the world. She was nothing, and then she was amazing – fertile, lovely, loved, important, meaningful, glorious and blessed – not because she stood out from the crowd but because God chose her, acted upon her and lived within her.

 

Astonishing and alarming as it may seem, this is also God’s work in you. We were born as Mary was, ordinary, broken people, chosen by God to be changed. As Christians, we now carry the Christ within our hearts as she carried Him in her womb, that we might bear God’s only Son into the world. Our mission, like Mary’s, comes through pain and struggle. It is a commission to be accepted rather than an honor to be earned. The Divine inside transforms the ordinary. No matter who or where you are, you began as nothing, but now you are amazing – fertile, lovely, loved, important, meaningful, glorious and blessed – because God chose you, acted upon you and lives within you. Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God. Rejoice, as Mary did, and bear Jesus into the world, your world, with peace and joy this Christmas.

 

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. (Luke 1:46-48)

 


I am indebted to Pastor John Haralson of Seattle, Washington for the idea for this devotion.  http://www.graceseattle.org/resources/sermon/3268/mary-filled-with-christ

God’s Struggler

I have little time to write these days, so I am repeating one of my favorites, something I think about often. I hope it encourages you wherever you find yourself right now.


I am everyone in Scripture. In reading through the Bible I often take the perspective that each character and incident reflects something about me as a human being. A previous post described me as Barabbas. I am also the woman who worshiped Jesus with her tears. I am Joseph, the one who experiences affliction which God intends for good. It is easy to see that I am Peter, denying Jesus and being restored. You get the idea. With those new eyes I want to meditate on Jacob, who wrestled with an angel. Sure, I see that he struggled with God in prayer, and I certainly do that. But there is more to the story which I have found confusing. So this post is one woman’s attempt to find herself in Jacob who was renamed Israel.

 

You will find the story in Genesis 32 and 33. Jacob was on his way to meet with his estranged and powerful brother, and he had his family and all his possessions in tow. The Bible says that he was in “great fear and distress.” In fact, he was so afraid of his brother, Esau, that Jacob sent him numerous bribes and then lagged behind the rest of the caravan. That is how he came to be by himself, wrestling with the angel of God at night. The Bible doesn’t say this, but I think that he was going to bolt. He had already done every cowardly thing short of running away, and I think that was why he wrestled God. His name, Deceiver (Jacob, loosely translated from the Hebrew), would bear this out. When morning came, Jacob’s helpless wives and children would find themselves inexplicably alone, in the hands of Jacob’s worst enemy.

 

If you read the story from that perspective, you find that by daybreak, God had still not overcome Jacob’s fear, his craven resolution to flee. Jacob’s flesh was stronger than Jacob’s faith. And so God crippled him. In this hindered state, Jacob continued to wrestle for God’s blessing. He no longer had the option to run, and so he asked for the thing he should have sought in the beginning, God’s purpose and blessing in the midst of his struggle. Our gracious God who maims then bestowed upon Jacob, the Deceiver, his new name: Israel or Struggler. The rest of the story reveals God’s faithfulness as Jacob assumes his rightful place at the head of his family. I’ll let you read it for yourself.

 

This story is about Israel’s identity as a man and as a people. It’s about my identity. It’s about the many ways I deceive myself and others, the many ways I run from the hard things, the many ways I fail even to ask for courage. If you know me, you know that I am crippled. I have an artificial leg which is the result of an amputation which saved my life. It has also kept me from running away when I wanted to and caused me to wrestle with God until He blessed me. It is a visible reminder that my name is Struggler, and that is a good thing.

 


If you’d like to hear a sermon on this passage by Mark Driscoll, click this link: http://marshill.com/media/genesis/jacob-wrestles-god.

Postponing Love

A couple of 14-carat gold wedding rings. Pictu...

Dear Christian Counselor,

 

I’m looking for the most thorough, rigorous Christian premarital counseling book that you’re aware of. I need recommendations for a Christian couple that’s recklessly rushing towards marriage after spending very little time together. They’re determined to hold their wedding asap, but they’re also very open to premarital counseling and any books we recommend to them. I’m looking for a book that challenges naivete and the fairy tale they’ve spun for themselves about the necessity to get married now, without experiencing each other over time.  Many thanks!

 

Dana

 


 

Dear Dana,

 

This couple is blessed to have such a caring friend, and they may need your friendship more in the months to come if they are rushing into marriage. Before I address your question, I’d like to address your underlying fear. While there is some evidence to indicate that a longer dating relationship gives marriage a better chance of success, it is far from the only factor. The Bible does not presume that a bride and groom even KNOW one another before they marry. It gives them the same advice as it gives couples in longer dating relationships: to love and respect one another (Col. 3:18-19), not to divorce (Matt. 19:1-6) and to work as a team to build God’s Kingdom (Ps. 45). If both spouses love Jesus and are even more committed to Him than they are to each other, that will give them the strength, wisdom and grace they need to create a loving partnership. Other factors, such as their cultural value systems, family support, income and communication styles are also very important, and those are things that should come out in premarital counseling. But be warned: I have tried to talk people into postponing marriage with very little success. Those in love are thinking not primarily with their heads, but with their hearts filtered through Cupid’s chemicals. Give them all your best advice, but in the end, YOU must trust God for His work in their lives – through a happy marriage or an unhappy one.

 

While I know of no resource which deliberately bursts young love’s balloon, there are some books below that I would recommend, in no particular order. I would also recommend that the couple talk with a pastor or counselor who is trained in premarital work, someone who can speak into their lives with compassion and wisdom. May God guide them – and you, too, as you walk alongside them.

 

Thing I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married by Gary Chapman

(Contains exercises and discussion questions.)

 

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller

(Covers the basics of Christian marriage thoroughly.)

 

Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas (A different, deeper perspective on marriage.)

 

Preparing for Marriage by Boehi, et al.

(Contains worksheets on decision-making and relationship evaluation for engaged couples.)