Wednesday, December 5, 2007

In a stable

(this is a rerun from last Christmas - I just re-read it, and I needed to hear it again!)

I have been thinking a lot about Mary lately, being that it is Christmas and all. Actually since I first became pregnant five years ago with my son Shepherd, Mary has been constantly on my mind.
On Christmas Eve at our church the pastor spoke on expectations of Christmas, and how our expectations often do not match with our reality. Which made me think a lot of what Mary would have been expecting when she went to Bethlehem? Consider this…the girl had had angels come to tell her she was pregnant. Now that is a long long way from peeing on a stick.
She knew she was chosen. Being that she was Mary and not Missy, she did not get arrogant about it, nor proud – she remained humble, as we see in her Magnificat. The Gospels do not tell us what her pregnancy was like (a sure sign that they were written by men. Imagine if God had chosen a woman to write a Gospel – how many chapters would have outlined her morning sickness and labor?). I assume Mary threw up like the rest of us and woke up every hour to tee tee and had backaches and embarrassing gas moments.
Some church traditions teach that Mary did not suffer in childbirth – but I don’t even like that idea (nor can I reckon it theologically). The thought of Mary having sciatica makes me love her so much more. Anyway, she knows she is carrying the Savior of the world in her womb. She knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the baby who has been kicking her all night long for months now is going to bring peace to all mankind. She knows this. That angel had told her. And being that she was human, I would imagine she had some – expectations.
As her contractions increased and she walked the long road to Bethlehem feeling, like we all do at 9 months gestation, like a big fat cow, I doubt Mary was expecting a gilded room at the palace (I am sure the thought would have crossed my mind, but as I mentioned previously, I am no Mary). However I feel pretty sure that she was expecting God to provide her with at the very least, a room - a private, warm, reasonably clean room to deliver this precious child. Such a small request! She had earned at least as much – suffering through the societal stigma of an unplanned pregnancy, and almost losing Joseph – surely God would make it up to her in childbirth. *
The one thing that I doubt Mary expected to be provided by God was a stable. I have birthed four babies myself; I just cannot imagine giving birth in a barn. Non-Mary I, in the third stage of labor, would have had some tacky things to say about this particular arrangement. What must have gone through her and Joseph’s minds? The Messiah, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty One, is coming into the world in a barn? Surrounded by animals and manure? Imagine how protective we are of our brand new babies – and imagine lying one to rest in a manger that cows eat out of?? Hardly sterile.
Do you think they wondered if they had gotten the message wrong? Did they ask if this was some holy joke? While she was pushing our pure and stainless Lord into the world onto hay and dirt, did Mary keep waiting for someone to rescue her? Mary had been obedient, she had prayed unceasingly, she was the ultimate woman of God, yet in her time of great need, doors were repeatedly slammed in her face, literally. I think she must have been very confused in that stable.
I know so many people who are in a stable right now. Many of my dear friends are amazing women of God. The pray, they fast, they are so obedient. Some of them even do their quiet time every single morning. They are much, much godlier than I am. They are doing everything “right”. Yet we have cried together over this last year. Things are not going the way they planned. Several are mourning the inability to conceive and grieving lost babies. One has been stricken with a mysterious debilitating illness. Some are in unhappy marriages or going through divorce. And my heart is especially burdened for a few girlfriends who are in their 30s, strongly desiring marriage and children, but God has yet to call them to this. This life is not the way it was supposed to go, not what they signed up for. It’s not what they thought they were promised. This life right now is definitely not what they expected. And they, perhaps like Mary was, are so confused.
We have the blessing of hindsight to know that the stable was representative of a very different kind of messiah. A humble messiah, with a message of peace, not the military hero the Jews were expecting (there is that word again.) A messiah who hung out not with kings but with the dregs of society, beginning with the shepherds who were his first visitors. “Not the righteous; sinners Jesus came to call.” By ordaining such a humble birthplace, God sent a message from the very beginning that this baby was going to rock everyone’s expectations, and shake their world view, and cause them to question everything they thought they knew. God does nothing haphazardly. There was a purpose in the stable. There was something bigger going on than Mary or Joseph – righteous, yet mere humans - could see or grasp.
I submit that there are purposes in our stables as well. Usually we cannot see the reason for the stable when we are in it. Sometimes, God clues us in later, and when it happens that is a real treat. But we don’t always get the blessing of knowledge. In fact frequently God in his infinite wisdom does not clue us in. I don’t know why the desires of my sweet friends’ hearts are not being met. I don’t know why Christian marriages fail, I don’t know why babies die, and I don’t know why my friends who would make such wonderful mothers can’t get pregnant. I don’t expect to find out this side of paradise, and there is no biblical promise that it will be revealed to me even in Heaven. I only know this – that God is sovereign and God is good.
There have been times in my life when “God is sovereign” has been a mantra I screamed repeatedly inside my brain. And there have been times when I just got depressed and wondered when I was ever going to get out of this dumb stable. But (praise him) our responses and our feelings and our confusion regarding these stables do not change the fact that God is sovereign, and God is good. And that he is up to more than we can see, that his grand design is greater than our own expectations, however noble they may be – which means, without a doubt, there is a purpose for the stable. God is intimately, unceasingly, invasively, personally involved in every aspect of our lives.
At some point, on earth or in Heaven, we will praise him for the stable, because he loves you and me as much as he loved Mary – take a moment and grasp that – and He has as much reason and purpose for putting us in our particular stable as he did Mary and baby Jesus. And this should give us hope – And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:5)

* A noted biblical archaeologist whom I greatly admire, Jim Fleming, believes that Mary would have had other women in her family around her – they would have all been in Bethlehem as well, so of course they would have attended her birth. When I first heard that Mary did not deliver Jesus with only Joseph for company (whom, remember, Matthew 1:25 says she had had no sexual relations with as yet – and childbirth is a great get-to-know-you party) that brought me immense comfort.


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