The How To’s of What Child

I can picture her, Mary, walking to the well with her friends giggling about Joseph, how tall he was and how he was good to look at. He was not the highest up in the community, but he was respectful and respected, a hard-worker whose labor had given him broad shoulders and kept him healthy. She was young, but not so young that her interest wasn’t there, that her curiosity wasn’t piqued.

They discussed the wedding plans and the celebrations, and Mary thought about how life would change after the big day. Where she would sit, live, her role in her family and her new family, how she would relate to this man she was just getting a sense of. And what would change between her and her younger friends who wouldn’t understand what she didn’t understand yet. As her friends spun her around, she already missed them a little. She looked forward to their time when they too would be matched and things would start to settle into a new comfortable rhythm.

It was in the middle of this comfortable life at the edge of the next big thing for Mary that the angel came to her.

“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary looked around for someone else. Highly favored? Who could he mean? Me? Certainly not. I am just a girl and I don’t have much about me that makes me different than any other girl. In fact, if this angel looked hard enough, he’d notice the lack of adornment, the manner of speech, the evidence in my body that I am common, at best.

“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.”

Mary posed the obvious question, and the angel explained, tucking inside that explanation that she could know that the impossible would be possible with God by looking at her relative, Elizabeth, who was too old to have a child and yet, she was indeed pregnant.

Ok. If this is what God wants for me, if this is what God says will be, ok.

She visits Elizabeth and finds that what the angel said was true. She was overjoyed and in that moment of confirmation she worshiped, a song welling up in her in a way she never had sung before.

But there were moments. Three months later she went home. She talked to Joseph. It was a difficult conversation. She cried and she prayed and she worried all the way up to the conversation. What did the angel say? What had God told her to do? What was the action plan?

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.

The conversation came and went with Joseph, and better than she expected, really. Her friends were a different matter. Or the girls she thought were her friends. She cried and prayed and worried over those conversations as well, but many of those conversations never happened. They just wouldn’t talk to her. How could she help this situation? What had the angel said to her?

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.

There were many days she went about her chores, humming to herself that praise that had welled up in her,  “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me.” But there were days that the words escaped her, that she replayed the conversations with people over and over and thought, “How can I explain this better? How can I make them see the angel the way I saw the angel? How can I convince them to hear what he said to me?” And she’d cry and pray and worry, finally comforting herself with the thought of the words spoken by the angel, “The Lord is with you. But what is the plan?”

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.

She began to set plans. Though there were sideways glances and eye rolls, she was a part of a community and her mother and a few others knew she would need care when the time came. They spoke to her about what to expect and promised they would help. “Do not be afraid, Mary,” they had said, “We will be with you.” There was something holy and sacred in those plans, in the gathering of women and the preparations for this little life coming into the world. It would be alright, because she had some support, she had a place and a plan and a few special things collecting in her house to make that terrifying moment seem manageable.

The census was announced and she made plans to travel with Joseph, and while there was something nice to think about traveling with this man, the one who could see the angel the same as her, but it meant this jostling ride through the wilderness to an unfamiliar town, to Joseph’s people, not hers. She huddled into the crook of his arm for comfort as they sat by the fire eating what never felt like enough. They arrive, and there is no room.

But there is straw to sleep on when they arrived, arranged by Joseph who sat, head in hands on the side of the trough. As each contraction came, with it to came waves of awareness that her things, her people, her plans, they weren’t in that barn. With the contractions came the angels words, back to her, over and over.

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.

That is not enough information! Why are there no how to’s with what child this is? It is true and I will do it, but it is not enough information! I have tried to do well and be responsible and prepare and plan, but I didn’t have enough information! Is there no way to go back to the before, to the walk to the well with my friends when it was just easier? Is there no way to do this the way I had planned? Is it always going to be just me and Joseph and this baby and no one else on Earth?

You will conceive and give birth to a son and you are to call him Jesus.

What more should she have known? What of this journey could the angel have told her that would not have made her say, pick someone else! What should he have said differently? What could he have told her about the plans of God and the cost of obedience that would have prepared her for any of it?

There was help to be found in the crowded inn. Joseph and his carpenter hands did not deliver the baby. It worked out. She made it through and there was the promise of God, held in her hands. The angels, the shepherds, the star, the lowing cattle, it was all more beautiful than she could have anticipated. It was hard work. But she was never alone in it. There were provisions that God set in place and she was often reminded of the scripture from Isaiah which says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

It was not her mother who helped her with that first nursing session, which was much more difficult than she’d anticipated. But as she cradled the living, breathing God of the universe, she treasured all of the things that had happened. She held them in her heart and pondered them.

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I can imagine Mary this Christmas, how everything went outside of her plans, how she would have had so much innocence so that she would have had no idea of just how hard this journey ahead of her would be. If Jesus in the garden was so raw that he would ask for another way, I can’t imagine that the same thought didn’t occur to Mary. She believed, oh, she had faith that was as dangerous as a lion, strong and wild, untamed by the whip of the world. And she held fast to the promises God had given her.

But there is no denying that there was a lot that she went through that she didn’t bargain for. Or that the directions she received could have felt woefully lacking in the face of her challenges.

She experienced the entry of God into her life away from the comforts of home, away from her birth plan, away from her closest family and the women who might have shown her how….

And honestly, right now, there is a lot in my life that I’d like more direction on. I feel like I need more details. I want to know how things are going to play out so I can trust the promise of God for me. But that’s hardly the way things work, certainly hardly the way God works.

I have put my hand to the plow, and the work is ahead of me not behind. My husband quotes a teacher who quoted someone else saying, “Hoe to the end of the row.” This is what I want for myself, to experience the entry of God in my life, to find myself sitting under a star hearing the voices of heaven proclaiming God’s majesty and sovereignty displayed for all to see. It means no matter how blistered my hands get from the hard work, I press on to the end of the row.

It means no matter how simple the directions, how unbelievable the task, how formidable the challenges, no matter how far outside my plans, no matter when or where or what, I believe what the angel told Mary.

For no word from God will ever fail.

And I reply like Mary.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

May it be fulfilled. I still will.

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