When I was a teenager I used to hang out at the mall with my friends a LOT. None of us really had an abundance of money or daddy’s credit cards, we mostly just liked going there to hang out and pass the time.
One of my favorite things to do while at the mall was sit on a bench and “people watch”. It was interesting how many people walked around inside of their own little bubble, not realizing the kinds of conversations they may be having with one another in public, where everyone could hear.
These days I no longer hang out in malls, but I can still people “watch” over social media and get a lot of the same thing. Connections let it all hang out in a variety of ways, all trying to paint the perfect picture of a perfect life. Some posts are sweet (and some not so much), some quite humorous, some intent on making religious or political statements. Then there are some, especially this time of year, where even though it might not be said straight out, make it obvious there is a lot of pain or negative emotion involved.
Holidays are not always fun. There is the pressure that comes from trying to wrap up all the loose business ends, the stress that comes from a desire to make everything “perfect” (even though it rarely turns out that way), send out greeting cards to everyone and their uncle, host or attend all the right parties, making homemade goodies and decorations, spending money we often don’t have on gifts that will likely be eventually discarded or forgotten, and then there is finding time for all the traditions in between. That along with the anxiety of where needed or wanted money will come from, combined so often with the grief over loved ones who are no longer with us during this time or the loneliness of broken relationships. I can truly understand why, even though we always put on our best face, Christmas is not the favorite holiday of many.
If you think this is all new and only applicable to recent generations, think again. I’m thinking of Mary, from the story of the nativity. Most likely through an arranged marriage, as a young teenager she was engaged to marry Joseph. Back in her day, the engagement or “betrothal” was a legally binding contract much like marriage is today. She was a virgin, as the two of them would not consummated their marriage until the wedding day, but miraculously she was impregnated with the Son of God by the Holy Spirit before that took place.
Have you ever known a young teenage girl who became pregnant when she was still in school, before she got married? It might not be such a stigma now here in our culture, but when I was young it was still quite an alarming scenario. Unlike today’s culture & society here in the US, abortions were not available back then and would have been rightly considered murder of the unborn child. Our culture set aside, Mary was Jewish, living in Israel. As it was in her time and even still today there are middle eastern cultures where women who are accused of sexual relationships outside of the binding contract are often stoned to death, as it is considered a grave offense.
I can only imagine what would have been running through my head if I were Mary, and that had happened to me. Panic on what action to take, fear of what others would say or do to me, fear of my husband to be and how he might feel about me from that point forward, shame perhaps in that even though it was truly a miracle the wagging tongues and shaking heads would follow me all the days of my life.
But Mary did not see it from that perspective. Her response to the Angel who announced these things to her was “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true” (Luke 1:38). In about her third month of pregnancy she sings a song of praise: “Oh how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me” (Luke 1:46-49).
Mary refused to believe that what happened to her was a social curse. She refused to take into consideration what others would think during her lifetime and instead chose to hold onto what God thought, and what others would think of her throughout eternity. As “Our Daily Bread” writer Regina Franklin puts it, Mary “rested in knowing that God was weaving together what couldn’t yet be understood”.
I believe that is an invitation for us as well, to set aside our own ideas of what is bad and what is good and find our perspective of bad and good within the Lord instead. “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine” (Isaiah 55:8). “So we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives, for we are his lovers who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose” (Romans 8:28).
From the moment the angel spoke, Mary knew in her heart that what others would call bad, God was calling good, and she chose to walk forward unafraid in faith and rest confidently in his word. How different would our lives be today if everything the evil one meant for bad in our lives we were confident ahead of time knowing that God had already worked it out for His glory and purpose?
This Christmas, may we all take the time to set aside our agendas and timelines long enough to connect into the agenda and timeline of God. May we lay at his feet every care, every burden every thought we have taken captive that goes against what his word tells us. And may we have the peace he gives to us as a gift. Not the kind of fragile peace the world offers, but his perfect peace that is greater than any circumstance (John 14:27). May we have the courage to see our problems from a different perspective!