One sunny day in March of 2008, Abdel-Qader, a government employee in southern Iraq discovered that his 17 year old daughter Rand had been seen in public chatting with a British soldier. Enraged, he waited for her to come home, at which time he stomped on, suffocated and then stabbed the young girl to death. Though he was arrested, he was released two hours later, after having been congratulated by the police for acting to restore his family’s honor in the face of the girl’s immorality. The murder was fully sanctioned by Sharia law, though Rand had done nothing more than engage in conversation with the soldier during her breaks at work.
Though there were no such laws in first century Judea, the culture in which the teenage Mary had grown up would have had some similar values. People, for example, were not viewed as individuals, but rather as members of their group or clan, and therefore, whatever one person did, reflected on all of them. Nazareth was a small, conservative village with only about 400 inhabitants, which meant that everyone would most likely have been drawn into her pregnancy in some way. The fact that she claimed it was an act of God could only have made matters worse.
Yet, when the angel appeared announcing God’s call to Mary, her response was nothing short of miraculous. Though deeply troubled at first, she answered with humble acquiescence and then broke out with the Magnificat – one of the most glorious psalms of worship ever written. This girl had a tender heart toward the God of her childhood.
But can you imagine how Mary must have felt as she stood before her father, sharing the news? Even Joseph’s plan to marry her could not have assuaged the rage and shame and sadness that the teenager’s dad must have expressed. Mary’s baptism by fire had begun. As if months of rejection and scorn weren’t enough, the very pregnant girl had to travel 80 miles in six days through the desert on a donkey, only to encounter a maelstrom of frustrated pilgrims fighting for lodging, finally giving birth in a grotto that sheltered sheep. With no sister or aunt or mother or midwife to hold her hand, Mary was mired in a crucible of God’s making, toughening her up for even greater heartache to come.
By the time she’d raised Jesus, Mary had become a strong, confident, even headstrong woman. At the wedding in Cana, she quickly dismissed her son’s objection to doing miracles before His time, telling the servants to do whatever he said. She traveled with him off and on after that until the day Jesus discharged her by declaring that all those who did His Father’s will were now his mother and brothers and sisters.
That is the last we hear of Mary until Jesus hung in a bloodied heap from the cross of Calvary. While most of His disciples fled in fear, the woman whose womb had carried him into the world looked bravely on as her first-born took his final breaths. What memories flashed across her mind in those painful hours? Did the roar of the mocking crowd bring back the ridicule she had faced so long ago? When the soldiers bartered for his ragged robe, did she see herself in that stable, swaddling her infant against the chill of night? When water and blood shot from the stab wound in her Son’s side, did she hear a distant echo of Simeon in the temple, warning her of a sword that would pierce her soul? In that moment, did she wonder how in the world she would ever recover?
But recover she did, at least in part, for the book of Acts tells us that Mary was there after Christ’s ascension, praying with Peter and James and John and all the others in the upper room. Only eternity will reveal the role she played in those days of the early church and the spreading of the gospel throughout the land and beyond.
So as Christmas comes, let us consider this woman who pondered things in her heart and pressed through her pain again and again for the higher good. Let us remember the way her trials shaped her and the strength she gleaned from the sacrifices she made. And as we see her pushing through and persevering in the face of a struggle we cannot even begin to comprehend, let us give thanks; for we are all to this day in that woman’s debt.
Consider this amazing woman and the words she begins her spiritual venture with: Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. Imagine the many times she must have reminded herself of this throughout Jesus' life and death. Now think of what she must have experienced when the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost. Radical obedience always produces incredible rewards. How have you seen this in your own life? Where might you need to say these words again?
Worship the Lord by personalizing the Magnificat, the prayer of Mary upon learning of God’s call: Psalm 104:1-2, 31-34 "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, even as he said to our fathers."
A CHRISTMAS ACTIVITY
Write Mary’s words of submission on a card and carry it with you throughout the day, offering it up as often as possible as your own prayer. Share it with someone else: Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.