Ever considered Christmas from Mary’s perspective? In a moment, the life she envisioned for herself was altered permanently by a celestial visit. In God’s eyes, she was highly favoured – about to become the mother of His Son. Yet, in man’s eyes, she was another duplicitous teenager pregnant out of wedlock, despite her outward piety. Not only did she have to convince her fiancé of an incredible story, but she also had to contend with being a subject of gossip and insults despite her innocence. Can you imagine the emotional rollercoaster her pregnancy must have been? Then weeks before giving birth, she’s forced to travel tens of miles to a foreign town for reasons outside her control. She would eventually give birth in frankly horrid conditions.
Mary did you know is a poignant Christmas carol that asks what Mary anticipated of her Son’s life and ministry. It’s my wife’s favourite, not because of the lyrics, but because of what is unsaid. When Mary accepted the call of God on her life and said to the angel: “Be it unto me according to your word” [Luke 1:38], I doubt she expected a challenging pregnancy, followed by what must have been a stressful birth. As if that wasn’t enough, the ruler of the land sought to kill her baby, so she had to flee her homeland. Her family would become refugees in Egypt until Herod died. Yes, there was the prophecy from Simeon at the presentation of Jesus at the Temple that a sword would pierce her soul [Luke 2:35]. But I can’t imagine that Mary, who was probably still a teenager at that point, could have anticipated how exacting the assignment of being the mother of God’s Son would be.
Scripture is mostly silent about the early years of Jesus apart from when He went missing during Passover, aged 12. Imagine the range of emotions Mary experienced in those three days. She probably didn’t sleep or eat as she searched every nook and cranny for her Son. Jesus’s first recorded words in Scripture are a response to his mother after his parents found him in the Temple [Luke 2:41-52], and what a retort to your mother after missing for three days that is! I know mothers who wouldn’t have shown Mary’s restraint at that moment. Fast-forward about 18 years, how must she have felt when on the occasions the religious and political leaders tried to arrest or kill her Son? Imagine her thoughts as Jesus began to prophesy His death. The worst was to come as Jesus was arrested, unjustly tried, tortured and executed. Mary watched on at the foot of the cross helpless as her perfect, innocent Son died a slow, shameful, excruciating death [John 19:25-27]. What must have been going through her mind on that fateful day?
Mary had a unique relationship with God, partnering with the Holy Spirit in a manner which will never happen again. Yet, I wonder if there were times she thought to herself: “Is this what being highly favoured looks like?” Take the episode with Herod, for instance. Mary would have heard testimonies of Isaiah when an angel struck down 185000 soldiers in the Assyrian camp because Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had threatened to invade Jerusalem [Isaiah 36-37]. I imagine her asking God why He didn’t send that angel to strike down Herod’s army as she fled to safety. The most glaring lesson from Mary’s story for me is one that’s difficult to accept, and it’s this: “Because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not God”. As I reflect on her life, it becomes apparent why she needed to be full of grace. Her assignment would have crushed her without that grace.
Christmas can be a challenging season if things aren’t great. For many, it’s generally a time for family fun and festivities, but for some, the season exacerbates their pain. It’s worse if the reason for the pain is a choice rooted in what you believe God has called you to do or a consequence of choosing integrity and righteousness. When you made the decision, you probably expected God to orchestrate a favourable series of events to reward your faithfulness. Yet, not only hasn’t that happened, but the tide has also turned against you, and you’re barely keeping your head above water. Such experiences can cause us to regret our choices. We may say: “Had I known it was going to be this way, I would have chosen differently”.
I suspect that if you could interview Mary today, she would say: “I didn’t know saying ‘yes’ to God would lead to some of the most excruciating experiences a mother could go through”. But, I’m confident she’d also say: “But it was worth it” [1 Corinthians 2:9]. I believe Mary is well-placed to tell of God’s faithfulness in this life and the next [Luke 1:46-55]. I also suspect she would tell anyone who cared to listen that “God is good and trustworthy. So, don’t judge His faithfulness until the end of the story.” Nevertheless, while you’re in the thick of it, and it seems like anything that could go wrong is going wrong, there’s grace – lavishly available [Ephesians 1:8]. It may not be the way out you anticipated, but if God is in it, it’s a good way out.
You may not know like Mary, but God does. He knows the end from the beginning of your story [Isaiah 46:10], and He’s on your side [Psalm 56:9]. So, stay the course with integrity and unwavering obedience to God. This Christmas may not be the best time for you; Mary’s first Christmas wasn’t either. But, if we stick with God as Mary did, we’ll find Him to be Immanuel – the God who is with us through it all [Matthew 1:23].