Wonder: Mary and the Curses that Follow Blessing

Ed Cyzewski is a gracious and welcome presence on the Internet. He uses his site to host the voices of others and elevate the discussions that tend to turn to arguments. I am honored to be the host of his words today.

Do you remember that story where the religious leaders accused Jesus of being demon possessed and born out of wedlock? That always struck me as a little insight into the effects of small town life and the kind of shame that Mary faced on a regular basis thanks to that visit from an angel.

News about the “scandalous” birth of Jesus traveled far and wide.

If you’ve never lived in a small town before, you may not know about the way bad news, let alone a scandal, can spread.

We lived in a small Vermont town for four years, and I rarely needed to read the newspaper to learn about the latest round of bad news. If there were rumblings over the ownership of a local store or the tempestuous relationship between a pastor and the sexton, I just needed to show up for work or go out for a pastry. News spread quickly among people long before Facebook became a powerful force for sharing news in a network.

If you can imagine living in a small town in the ancient village of Nazareth, and most of us can’t really, we might think of a Jewish culture where sex outside of marriage was shameful and reason for exclusion. If it happened, it was either covered up or a source of lifelong shame.

We’re not quite in Scarlet Letter territory. This is far worse. We don’t know how often women were stoned for committing adultery, but among a Jewish people determined to keep the Law perfectly in order to leave their nation’s checkered past behind, it certainly brought some devastating consequences.

Enter Mary, a lowly peasant, most likely a very young woman, if not young “teenager.”

She had everything to lose if she was found pregnant before her wedding day. Although Joseph didn’t turn her over to be killed, she certainly accepted a life of shame.

Isn’t it something that the person called “favored” by God, chosen to bear his son into the world was also destined to carry a life of shame—to say nothing of the grief of watching her only son suffocate to death on a cross as a criminal.

God showed up in the life of Mary.

She was favored and blessed.

She looked forward to future generations with the eyes of faith, trusting that they would call her blessed.

She was anything but blessed during her lifetime.

Who knows how many years she lived in shame around her relatives and close friends. Perhaps she and Joseph preferred to remain in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus in order to escape the knowing glances by their former friends.

Let us pray this Christmas season for God to come. His presence is more valuable than any gift.

But what happens once God shows up? What happens to those he favors and calls blessed?

Does life get easier or better or simpler?

Perhaps the arrival of God in our lives and his blessings is the start of a lifelong struggle and pain. The catch is that God is there with us in the pain, difficulty, and questions.

“God with us” is not a remedy to our problems. It’s the good news that God is present with us in our pain, that he can use us just as we are, and that the troubles of this life are not the end of the story.

Future generations may even call us blessed.

 


About Today's Guest Blogger: Ed Cyzewski

Ed Cyzewski is the co-author of Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus and the author of Creating Space: The Case for Everyday Creativity (A Kindle Best-Seller), A Path to Publishing, and Coffeehouse Theology. He blogs about imperfectly following Jesus at www.inamirrordimly.com and tweets at @edcyzewski.

 

Wonder: Rediscover the Christmas Story is an Advent series designed to help us pause and reflect on how amazing the stories of Jesus’ birth really are. To break through the cluttered busyness of the season and touch our hearts with the awe of what God has done. Let’s make this a season of wonder and worship, marveling together at our great God.

 

Advent Series Day 17: on being interrupted

I am not good at being interrupted. And I’m not just talking about matters of speech. I am a person who makes plans, sets goals, and has an agenda. If I am in the middle of a project, I have a difficult time setting that aside. If you come to my house when I am trying to get something done, I might talk to you, but I will be looking at my watch much of the time.

The problem is, sometimes what seems like an interruption could be the best part of my day- if I let it. If I let go of my own plans and trust what God might be doing in that moment.

Mary is a young girl going about a normal day when she is interrupted by an angel.

As it turns out, his message will not only disrupt her day- it will disrupt her entire life. But, it could be the best part of her day if she lets go of her own plans and trusts what God might be doing in that moment.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.  – Luke 1:26-38

This news upsets everything about Mary’s life. She will be pregnant outside of wedlock. She will likely bring shame on her family in the community. They may disown her. She may lose her future spouse.

Yet, Mary accepts the interruption. She asks how, but she does not add conditions or ask why. Mary says yes. She sees what God is doing and trusts Him.

Many years earlier, God interrupted Moses, and told him to leave shepherding to free God’s people from Egypt,

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” -Exodus 3:11

Though Moses is considered a great hero of the faith, he took much longer to accept God’s interruption than Mary did.

We can see why God found favor with this young girl.

I wonder how God is trying to interrupt me this Christmas season. I have plans of all I want to get done in the next week. But is there something I am missing? Something I would see if I set my plans aside to notice?

I will likely not get an interruption as noticeable as an angel. And the message will be tiny in comparison. But that only means I should work harder to keep my hands and heart open. A quiet whisper from God should ring loud enough to interrupt my plans.

And I pray when it does, I can have the great faith of Mary who says “I am the Lord’s servant.”