Advent, Day 8: Response


I wonder if Mary or Joseph ever doubted.  

Infant mortality was exceedingly high in the first century, especially among the poor.  Virtually nothing that we assume for modern medicine existed yet.  Dying during childbirth was a common cause of death for married women.  

Both Mary and Joseph had an angel tell them that Jesus would be God’s.  

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.

We might assume from this that Mary could relax about whether or not her baby would survive childbirth.  I wonder.  

I wonder what Mary thought her life would be with her child.  

When I read what the angel Gabriel told Mary, I try to imagine how she pictured her future.  She had already experienced bearing a child differently than any other woman in history.  Gabriel told her:

And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end

I look for any foreshadowing in his words about Jesus’ death and find none.  I think the first that Mary gets a glimpse of how her child will suffer comes through Simeon, the prophet who comes to her in the Temple.  Simeon takes the child into his arms, bursts out in praise to God, delivers a prophecy about Jesus, then turns to Mary and says, 

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed  so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

What can that mean?  As we looked at last time, we tend to read these stories already knowing the ending.  Mary has heard nothing about having he soul pierced.  One of the “Wise men,” the Magi who would come on their long journey to see Jesus, would present myrrh as his gift, but as we noted, that didn’t happen at the manger-side, three hours after Jesus birth, but more likely two years into Jesus’ life.  I picture Mary had two years of pondering “…and a sword will pierce your soul…” before they arrived.  

When I led a young adult ministry in Colorado, a very troubled man came to our group for a while.  He had suffered a serious car accident and sustained minor brain damage.  He had addictions that hunted him and was emotionally unstable.  I was new in ministry and had an open and willing heart but not much wisdom.  One night, after our meeting, a few of our members went to a different room to pray with him.  I wasn’t there.  But God did something extraordinary and they all experienced God’s presence coming to the young man.  Afterward, he was stunned.  I talked with the people who had prayed with him and had them describe what happened.  It sounded like God was starting a miraculous healing in the guy.

But nothing changed.  I kept spending time with him, his addictions looked the same, he raged about life as he had before.  I asked him, “What about when God did that thing?”  (I was probably just that eloquent.)  He told me, “Yeah, that was cool, but it didn’t do me any damn good.”  

I’ve known many people who have told me they don’t believe in God because they’ve never had any experience of God’s presence, God speaking to them, or anything else they could identify as personal evidence that God exists.  This man experienced God powerfully, personally, and it didn’t do him “any damn good.”  Eventually he stopped coming to our my group and church and we stopped talking.  

I don’t know how he expected God to act.  He and I prayed about his addictions, but I don’t know if he ever took action to give them up.  

We imagine that God might come to us and that would change everything.  In my experience, God comes to us and that changes everything…but not how we imagine.  Or perhaps that can change everything, but only depending on how we respond. Yesterday we looked at how Joseph responded to Mary’s pregnancy before he heard who Jesus would be.  Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  My friend said, “It didn’t do me any damn good.”

Mary didn’t know she would see her son crucified.  I would argue that at some point during Jesus’ life, Mary and Jesus’ brothers did not understand what he was doing or how to respond to his ministry.  Mark 3:31-35 is what we always hear, but read Mark 3:21.

Encounters with God do not solve doubt.  Even when we experience God, we still choose whether we respond in faith or doubt.  When Jesus said, “And who are my mother and brothers?” you know for certain that Mary later heard these words.  How did she respond?  

God does come to us, but rarely the way we expect.  God comes to us, but in God’s coming, we receive not only God’s presence, but a choice.  

How will we respond?   


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