Thursday, February 23, 2017

Good Things

According to my brother-in-law, the Rev. David Handy, "Traditionally, since ancient times, in liturgical churches (Lutheran and Anglican, as well as Catholic and Eastern Orthodox), the Blessed Virgin Mary is considered the greatest of all the saints, bar none. Greater than Francis of Assisi in the 13th century, or St. Benedict (founder of the Benedictine order of monks) in the 6th century, or any other saint, male or female. Yet Mary never held any office of leadership in the church, never wrote a book or received any theological education."

But she did pen one of the most beautiful songs in Scripture, Mary's Magnificat!
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” Luke 1:46-55
Mary glorified God and rejoiced. She gave thanks for the great things he had doneher miraculous conception and the honor of raising the Messiah! She was humbled and realized the future impact of this miracle. She knew she was well off (blessed) because of God's grace shown to her. She wasn't focused on herself and the child. She focused on Godthe holy, merciful and powerful one. Most of her song described the Mighty One, whom she obviously knew. He alone brought down the proud and lifted up the humble as she had been lifted up. He did not favor the wealthy or privileged, but was just. He remembered his promise to Abraham so long ago and continued to help Israelnow by sending a Savior. Her God was faithful and she trusted him.

This is all very lovely but the phrase that stood out to me and met my need this day was the reminder again that God has filled the hungry with good things. A quick look told me that the hungry could be translated the needy. That's me! And good things are pleasant, useful, upright and pleasurable. I want those! In other words, a fresh reminder that my God is Good! And he has given me what is beneficial to me.

God chose Mary for an incredible task. For that, she gave God praise and recognized his hand of grace and blessing on her life. But that calling also brought pain. It wasn't easy to fulfill. It meant a change of her plans, a total upending of her dreams, confusion, ridicule, misunderstanding, unrecognized sacrifice.

Yet Mary said that God fills the needy with good things. The pain of Mary's calling produced the crossthe salvation of the world. What better end justified that means? Mary was only a conduit, an ezer (a helper), but she was still blessed.

Mary's ride was bumpy. Jesus' was too. For him, there were weddings, joyful times with children, the laughter and fellowship of friends, good food. And there was the cross. 

I too was graced with an awesome taskthat of showing unconditional love to my husband. Can I take the blessing of my callinga fun, attentive, communicative husband along with the pain? My pain (and his) too, will produce something. And perhaps his will produce something more beautiful, like Jesus' did.

Why do I default to thinking God's calling means everything should go smoothly? I'm doing his will so I should be blessed (in the 20th century sense) or at least given an easy ride? As Mary focused on the Mighty One, I choose to focus not on my lack but on God, the filler of my need.

Lord God, Mighty One, I so need the reminder that you are good. I am so needy. My neediness sometimes overwhelms those around me. But you have filled me with good things and today, I choose to focus on you and not what I lack.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Safe Place

Mary sat there trying to catch her breath. What had just happened? Had there really been an angel right in front of her just moments before? "I'm going to have a baby!" She involuntarily gazed at her stomach as her hand touched her garment. "Is he already in there? Jesus, the angel said his name was. The Messiah. The One who will save us all!"

"Wait! Who will believe me? What should I do? Who should I tell? Oh no, what about Joseph?" She panicked. "Will he understand?" The truth of what was happening to her hit her full force. "I could loose Joseph. Surely he won't divorce me or have me stoned? What will mom and dad say? How will I tell them? Oh, what should I do?"

Then she remembered the voice of the angel. "Cousin Elizabeth is pregnant too! I have to talk to her. She'll understand. I need Elizabeth. I will go to her. She'll know what to do."

Mary made the necessary preparations as soon as she could and headed off to the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah. As she walked, she thought about Elizabeth. "Elizabeth is so righteous. She has observed God's commands and decrees blamelessly.* Poor Elizabeth. She has endured so much because she has no children. She has heard every reason in the book and has been given every remedy known to man. Imagine thinking that Elizabeth was childless because she had sinned! And what about that silly idea that she try mandrake leaves like Rachel did! But that will end soon! A miracle has happened."

Mary made her legs go as fast as she could to Elizabeth's home, her place of safety and comfort.

At that time, Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. Luke 1:39-40
What a precious relationship Elizabeth and Mary must have had. I believe Elizabeth was much more than just a relative. She was a friend, a mentor, a sister, a confidant, an encourager - all that Mary needed at this strange time. She needed someone with strong faith to believe her. She needed someone who had personal experience with miracles and God's way of doing things. She needed someone to explain the changes about to take place in her body and how to give birth. Elizabeth fit the bill.

Pondering Mary's relationship with Elizabeth has made me wonder who I hurry to when I have a unique need. Who is my Elizabeth? Who do I have in my life who lives rightly and follows God wholeheartedly? Who has experienced the miracles of God and knows he can do the impossible? Who will give me Godly counsel and encourage me to hear and obey the voice of God?

And likewise, am I an Elizabeth for others? Am I a place of safety and comfort that others can run to?

Lord God, thank you for giving Mary a place to run to in her time of need. Thank you for Elizabeth's godly example. Please provide this kind of friendship and mentoring for me and my sisters in Christ. Teach us how to be a place of strong safety and comfort for others.

*Luke 1:6