“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:4-7
This Christmas season we gather to celebrate the events that happened thousands of years ago, events centered around the town of Bethlehem, the city where David was born and raised. The city that Malachi prophesied roughly 400 years earlier would be the birthplace of the Messiah.
We marvel at the wise men who came from the East and encountered God through a star. Who, despite being foreigners and feeling different, were compelled to find the King of the Jews and worship him. And we stand in awe at the story of the shepherds, who encountered the presence of God through the angels while working in a field.
And in these verses, we encounter Mary – a Middle Eastern teenage woman, a virgin, who was with child. Mary, who made her way to Bethlehem with Joseph, her fiancé, to be counted in the census. Mary, who gave birth to our Savior in the equivalent of a stable, surrounded by animals.
The angel Gabriel describes Mary as one who had found favor with God. And Mary describes herself as one who the generations will call blessed. We might describe Mary as devoted, the one chosen by God to carry His son.
That’s the description I latched onto as a child. As one who was favored and blessed, Mary must have been a good girl. A young lady who obeyed her parents, followed the rules, and strove to please God. A pure and Holy woman, one worthy to be handpicked by God for such an important task.
It was a description I longed to embody. And so, I tried. To do the right thing, to go above and beyond, to be the teacher’s pet, and my parent’s favorite. To be involved in student council, and band, and cheerleading. To get straight A’s, be Valedictorian, and earn a scholarship to college. To strive for perfection and never mess up. And I was pretty good at it. And it didn’t stop when I became a wife and mother.
But eventually, I began to understand that my definition of devoted wasn’t what God had in mind at all. A truth I learned the hard way – when decisions were out of my control and there was nothing else I could do to earn what I so desperately wanted.
It is a breath of fresh air to my weary soul to now realize what the angel Gabriel meant when he called Mary blessed and highly favored. He was describing Mary as a woman endowed with grace. In God’s story, Mary is a receiver of grace, not a distributor of grace. She found favor not because of anything she had done, but because of what God was going to do in and through her.
Mary was also a woman who described herself as a lowly servant girl, and one who, as an unwed pregnant teenager, found herself feeling different, and discounted like the wise men and shepherds, and even misunderstood. And yet, regardless of her stature, Mary was one in whom God dwelled and delighted. The one he trusted to carry his most precious treasure.
God’s coming was about so much more than just her, but it couldn’t have been accomplished without her.
You see, God could have chosen to come into the world in so many ways – mounted on a chariot, straddling a stallion, descending from the clouds, or floating on angel’s wings. He could have come fully grown, trained, privileged, and already in charge.
But instead, God came to us floating in embryonic fluid, enclosed in darkness, tucked into the safety of Mary’s womb, possibly even sitting on her sciatic nerve.
What does this arrival say about a God who is willing to …
- Be attached by a placenta for nourishment and life in his own creation?
- Wait and grow and be formed in a human womb?
- Come into this world tiny, naked, and afraid?
- Be fearfully and wonderfully made, just like us?
- Trust the process of childbearing with a human mother?
- Adapted from “Honest Advent” by Scott Erickson
It tells us that like Mary, we too are ones in whom God dwells and delights. That we are highly favored. That God has endowed us with grace, not because of anything we have done, but because of who He is. And that as ones who believe, we experience that grace as the Holy Spirit living within us, drawing us near.
When you think about the activities of that night, the stories surrounding this place called Bethlehem, where is God inviting you to encounter him? How is He wanting to bring you near?