Our new church home has plunged into the pages of Luke, so yesterday we had a bit of Christmas in July with the Annunciation and Mary’s magnificent response. I’ve written on Mary before but she’s worth coming round to again and again. Her life is a beautiful melody full of rapturous high notes but written in a dark, minor key.
And it's an important reminder for me right now. My husband and I have just moved our family across several states to follow God’s call to a new church, and I suppose I had unspoken expectations of how he would reward our obedience. Mistake. Our domestic affairs are a mess, we’re without a home and feeling really stretched. I keep looking for the hidden cameras. I’m asking God, “Really? This is the plan!?” Since I know he’s called us here, I must reconsider what it means to have his blessing. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know the tension between blessing and suffering is a frequent theme. That's because I'm super dense and require a lot of repetition to learn anything. Mary’s life is my current object lesson: she was God’s chosen instrument and highly favored, yet her landscape was full of mines.
How did the angel Gabriel greet the young woman? “Greetings, favored one!” The older versions translate it “Hail, Mary, full of grace!” If I heard those words I would expect things to start getting good fast. Instead, hardship followed. There were the small town rumors she had to endure as her belly grew. God could have had Gabriel appear to the whole village and smooth things over, but he didn’t. If I were carrying God’s only son, I might expect some royal treatment at delivery like the Duchess of Cambridge will soon receive in England. Nope. It happened when they were out of town and Mary gave birth in an animal’s stall, without her mother or a familiar midwife. I would’ve thought there’d have been a healthy trust fund for raising a member of the Trinity, but no. During Jesus’ childhood, God met their basic needs but we know Mary & Joseph were poor by the offering they presented at Jesus’ dedication (Luke 2:22-24). So much for the prosperity gospel.
Having God’s special favor meant ongoing heartache for our heroine. When Herod ordered the mass murder of the innocents Mary clutched her toddler and fled the country, knowing hundreds of baby boys were slaughtered because of her boy. How does a mother deal with that? Joseph apparently died young since we don’t hear of him in Jesus’ adulthood. It might have been nice to have her husband to lean on during those confusing ministry years. Christ was not respected and admired everywhere (anywhere?) he went. That would hurt any parent, much less one who had heard the promises she heard. At the cross, Mary endured every mother’s worst nightmare when she watched her child's public execution. If it gets worse than that on planet earth, I can’t think how.
So what does God mean by “favored one”? Obviously something different than we do. In God’s kingdom, his favor does not often square with a pleasant life or as Larry Crabb calls it, a good time. Mary had the privilege of feeling the Source of all life kick in her womb, of nursing the One who designed nursing, of caring for her Creator. She was a central player in the greatest story ever told. All generations have called her blessed, and yet Simeon’s prophecy for her was realized in awful clarity as well (Luke 2:33-35). Mary did what she was called to do, however, and lived to see her resurrected Son. She became his follower and was part of the infant church founded in his name. I don’t know whether she knew just how much he would change the world, but she does now.
In Christ, you and I are also called highly favored. The enormous reality of our sin has been erased and we’ve been credited with the very righteousness of God. We are the most blessed people on earth and have important work to do. Like Mary, our job is to fulfill the purpose for which he’s called us despite our bewilderment, despite our scars. In this current season, I don't know what else to do but forget what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14). It's the only thing that really matters.