As obsessed as we are here with fame and celebrity (see the recent ‘reality shows’ booming in popularity – I realised afresh this year how many people had the X factor in the Christmas story. Take Mary for example and her amazing way of dealing with suffering – the price to pay for being part of HIStory.
‘ 26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God.’ Luke 1:26-30
She had to live with unfulfilled expectations. Like any other teenage girl that was already engaged, Mary had plans – she had plans about her home… her life…. her man…and maybe even her children. Yet God’s plan for her life was about to ‘derail’ all those dreams
Her chastity was the greatest gift/treasure that she could offer her husband to be yet by being willing to be part of God’s story doubts would be cast over her integrity. Her friends & family would ask questions and the cost would probably be shame, whispers, fears and doubts…
Deep Disappointment – misunderstood son
‘28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.’ Luke 4:28-30
This is one of every mothers’ worst nightmares: to have a misunderstood son or daughter. She knew what was said about Him through the message of the angel and she saw quite a few glimpses that confirmed her that her boy was truly ‘special’ – he was not an ordinary child; he amazed the theological elite in the temple and performed an extravagant miracle at the wedding in Cana.
Yet when he returned ‘home’, those in Nazareth could not see it… They thought He was evil – what a twisted logic and false accusation. After that she probably realised that He was in danger. Did she worry at night, like most mothers do, I wonder?
Discriminating Death – ultimate insult
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[a]here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.’ John 19:25-27
This had to be the ultimate insult, probably…. He did not commit any crime, He changed so many people’s lives; He healed, set free and saved so many (often) ignored people. Yet – it was all quickly forgotten and He did not even get a fair trial.
He did not deserve this: all very public and so over the top. In her mind and heart a shiver must have passed through as she heard Him say: ‘it is finished’. The whole picture was suddenly so very wrong. That was her boy that was whipped, spat upon and literally broken to pieces…
Yet we know how the story ends… And this certainly isn’t the end. We often make the mistake of thinking that as we go through suffering – that is the end, it is final.
Yet God has the last word and we know that all those who receive His grace, surrender their lives and chose to be part of HIStory – they will finish well.
Mary ends up seeing Him again alive and well – miraculously so – the King of another Kingdom who fulfils that which was promised.
I recently read a very telling article by Christopher Hitchens. In the summer of 2010 the popular author and atheist was diagnosed with cancer. With his usual candor and clarity, Hitchens movingly described his battle with the illness in an article he wrote for Vanity Fair. ‘I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again?. … To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not? I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison to plant into your arm [his chemotherapy treatment] and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties into your system … . You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.’ Christopher Hitchens, “Topic of Cancer,” Vanity Fair(September 2010)
Where this bright and engaging man finds only futility in his suffering we know that God can redeem even the darkest of moments – just like in Mary’s life.
The apostle Paul understood that so well through his life and ministry – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10; 2 Corinthians 11:24-28.
At this Christmas time I encourage all of you who are going through suffering to be reminded again that God can use you to encourage others just as He encourages you. May He grant you much patience, courage, and trust and many encouraging people around you.