Saturday, December 4, 2010

In a stable



I've been thinking a lot about Mary, being that it is Christmas time and all. Actually since I first became pregnant eight years ago with my son Shepherd, Mary and I developed a kinship - a momship - and she is frequently on my mind.

And as I look at all the sweet, smiling, clothed-in-blue Marys in the nativity scenes, I wonder to myself: what would Mary really have been expecting on that very first Christmas?

Consider this: the girl had the angel Gabriel come to tell her she was pregnant. Mary stared in awe and wonder at the angel. Myself, I stared with awe and wonder at two pink lines on a stick dripping with, you know. Big difference. Mary knew she was chosen by God to bring the Light into the world. 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, which I think is 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 back labor? But I assume Mary threw up like the rest of us and woke up every hour to go to the bathroom and had sciatica and embarrassing gas moments. Which only makes me love her more.

She knew she is carrying the Savior of the world in her womb. She knew that the baby kicking her right in the bladder was in fact a king who would bring peace to all mankind. She knew this. That big scary angel had told her so. 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 all women at nine 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 by giving her an easy childbirth.

The one thing that I doubt Mary expected to be provided by God was a stable. I have birthed four babies myself and I just cannot imagine giving birth in a barn. Non-Mary I would have had some tacky things to say about this particular provision.

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, door after door was slammed in her face, literally, until she was finally given the room no one else wanted for a labor and delivery room. 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. They 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, a lot, this last year. Things are not going the way they planned.

One of my best friends buried her perfect stillborn son in July. We never, ever expected that. Another friend did not expect to spend this Christmas season in a hospital room watching chemotherapy drip into her six year old daughter's weakened body. Other friends expected to be mothers by now. Some are shocked to find themselves 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. It's not what they prayed for and it's 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 in which Christ was born 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 his first visitors, the loathed shepherds.

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 while 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 children 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.

Because God is intimately, unceasingly, invasively, personally involved in every single aspect of our lives. And in Romans 8:28 His word promises that this junk we are currently enduring will all work out for the good -- eventually.

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)

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