Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Season of Grace

'Tis the season. What season is that, exactly? To gather with family? To exchange perfect gifts and warm sentiments? To feel nostalgic? To deck the halls (whatever that means) and sing songs we only care to sing when the hot cocoa is flowing and Jack Frost is nipping? To put ourselves in debt keeping up with our snooty sister-in-law's holiday spread last year? To lapse into depression and an alcohol-induced coma until it's all over? To dust off the shiny shoes and head to church for the first time since Easter?

This week I've been thinking about the beginning. That first "Christmas." Which, when you read the story, wasn't really Christ-mass at all. No incense. No uncomfortable wooden pews. No shiny shoes. The Portuguese call Christmas "Natal" -- much more accurate, I think. Anyhoo, I was thinking about Mary, specifically. No disrespect intended, but I was thinking about who I was at the age of fourteen or fifteen. I know culturally and chronologically there are vast differences in Mary and I, but even as a woman in my forties, I can't imagine being "worthy" of such an honor. I know Catholic tradition teaches Mary was without sin but Scripture doesn't teach that, so you are free to move on if you don't like where I'm going with this. But, when we look at the Nativity, when we bask in the glow of this radiant mother and Child, when the corners of our mouths begin to curl up at the serene yet contemplative smile on the lips of the tiny virgin, do we ever think about Mary teasing her sister with the big nose and bad teeth, or tearing off the sweater her mother made her wear, as soon as she rounds the corner? Truth is, God is not a works-based God. He doesn't love us because of anything we have done. He doesn't count us worthy because of our good intentions, or mature countenance, or charitable nature. And here it is: Mary was no more worthy to be named "Mother of the Messiah" than you or I. Just let that roll around in your head for a minute. I am scared to think how this story would have turned out were an angel to have appeared to me twenty years ago much less, when I was in my teens!

We are told in the Scriptures what went through Mary's mind. Initially she was disturbed by an angel telling her she was favored. She knew the lies she had told and the things she had coveted. She knew she was not worthy. Can you imagine? "There must be a terrible mistake! This angel obviously has the wrong address. If I let him think it's me...well, I just can't let this charade go on!" After the angelic announcement, it is recorded that Mary merely questioned the logistics of it all: "You do know I'm a virgin, right? I'm going to be married in a few months; I've stayed pure almost to the chuppah, and now you tell me this? You're not asking me to do anything I shouldn't, right?" We're not told that Mary adopted anything but a heart of submission and obedience, and I'm sure the Holy Spirit had a lot to do with that as well, but this young woman was specially selected to be the Mother of the King of Kings -- personally, I can't believe she didn't wrestle with the whole concept. There were so many things to consider, and those are the things upon which I have been meditating.

  • Why me? and are You sure?
  • This is not what I had in mind. This could change my whole life.
  • What will people say? This could ruin my whole life.
  • I am so not ready for this.
  • I am so alone.
  • What if I fail?
Did days pass when she felt nothing, heard nothing? Did she ever think she was mistaken? And when it came time to make the journey to Bethlehem -- an arduous, dangerous journey, thirty-nine weeks or so into this very young woman's first pregnancy -- where they would find no place but a feeding trough to even lay the Newborn King, did guilt or doubt slither in beside to rob her of what God had bestowed on her?

Whatever God has spoken to you, whether He has called you serve Him in full-time ministry or simply to visit that church down the street, whether you feel led to give all you have or just want to break the chains of abuse that have bound you most of your life, whether something is causing you to question the lifestyle and relationships you have fought to keep for so many years or you have walked closely with Jesus for as long as you can remember, God calls us because of His grace. And sometimes He calls His children to what can appear to be complete insanity -- a virgin birth, a sixty-mile camping trip in your ninth month of pregnancy, a King wrapped in rags.

In this season, this season of warmth in spite of cold, this season of light springing from darkness, this season of glory wrapped in the humblest of circumstances, reflect on the grace given each of us by the Almighty God of the Universe, who claims us not because of who we are, but because of Who He is and what the tiny Babe was born to do.