Sunday, December 7, 2008

Mary: Ordinary Woman, Extraordinary God


Luke 1:46-55 “46 And Mary said: "My soul exalts the Lord, 47 and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 "For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond-slave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. 50 AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM. 51 He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. 53 HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; and sent away the rich empty-handed. 54 He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever."

We tend to hold Mary out here at arm’s length. When you consider that she is a main character in the story of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it seems she should be closer. To put it in the language of our society--she is a star. For a culture that loves stars, Mary should be easy to get too know. Today, as part of our celebrity worshipping culture she would have a book deal on mothering, appearances on Oprah, and a blog read by millions.
What you will find, however, if you try to get to know Mary better is that there really isn’t a lot to know. If she is a star in this story she doesn’t have many lines, not very much “screen time,” so to speak. We find that there are many other people we can study in the Bible, people with more verses dedicated to them, characters that seem to matter a whole lot more in the greater scheme of things. If Mary really is a “star” she would have had more things to say and do in the Scriptures. If Mary is so important, there would be a lot more action surrounding her.
Certainly there was much action going on as the angel visited her and then she went to tell her mother what had happened. I am sure there was a flurry in that house--some hollering, some crying, great disappointment. When your daughter comes to tell you that she is pregnant and not yet married that causes some action to take place. It could easily be the plot of a film.
But we don’t hear any of that part of the story in the Bible. The angel comes to Mary. The news is given. She accepts it. It is a really short scene. We don’t get to know her very well at all. We don’t get any good shots of what she looks like or what she is wearing. We know that Joseph hears and we will find out more about his role next week. We don’t hear, however, how mom and dad took it; we don’t know what their responses were. We aren’t privy to the conversations at the well, the talk at the loom, or the gossip while grinding the wheat.
She drew water from the well--women did that in Jesus’ day. She wasn’t allowed to go to the synagogue to learn, but her father would have taught her--that was the custom. She had no real choice in her marriage partner, her father chose Joseph for her--that was life. She probably sewed, baked bread, kept house, worked with animals, helped raise her brothers and sisters.
All of those things were typical life tasks, the work of woman in 4 BC. And in the midst of this very ordinary life, in an ordinary town, something extraordinary happens. An angel comes and makes a pronouncement. She has a question about how it will happen, but there is no doubt. Instead, she makes a simple statement.
“May it be to me as you have said.” If you weren’t listening you might miss it. In the grand and epic drama that is unfolding in the Gospel of Luke this little line could be passed over in an instant and yet, it is the most important part of the story so far. It reveals everything we need to know about Mary: “May it be to me as you have said.” An extraordinary God was going to use an ordinary woman. What would that be like? Would you like to be used by the extraordinary God?

There are at least 3 things we need to be used of God.

The first is the knowledge that God’s blessing isn’t based on what we deserve. This is good news. It means it doesn’t matter who your mom and dad were or weren’t. It doesn’t matter whether you have a doctorate or failed grade 8. It doesn’t matter whether you have money in the bank and a regular pension set up, or you live day to day from pay check to pay check. It doesn’t matter whether you can run a 5 minute mile, or struggle up a 3 steps. In fact, God’s love has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with God. Jesus even said that it is hard for someone rich to be used of God because all their stuff tends to get in the way. I know I know, some of us are thinking, “Well, I’d like to give it a try – the part about being rich, I mean.” My point is, start where you are. Don’t fret about who you’re not, what you haven’t got, what’s missing. Just give what you got to God and watch Him take your ordinary stuff, your ordinary life and do a miracle. And some of you ladies are saying, “After last week’s story about Elizabeth and this week’s story about Mary - I don’t want that kind of miracle!” I think God is interested in other things …

How big is your God? We may have an opinion that may or may not be true. That is why we go by what the Bible says and not just by what we feel like today. When we read the passage called the Magnificat in Luke, we see some of Mary’s understanding of her God; and when faced with an impossible situation of being pregnant while yet a virgin, she accepted Gabriel’s answer at face value – “God is big enough!” Last week we saw Zacharias had to face the same question. He didn’t do so well, and he was struck silent until his impossible baby was born. God created the universe. Have you thought about what that means. One writer talked about the wastefulness of creation – about how much extra stuff God created that is just “extra”!
One show I like to watch on TV is Hubble’s Camera. It shows picture upon picture of stars and galaxies, of nebulae and gasses and light and darkness across unimaginable distances – and as far as we know it is only on this tiny speck of a planet that intelligent life is found. He created so much, and until Hubble we didn’t even know existed. This is my favourite picture. It is called HDF or the Hubble Deep Field. It sees galaxies and light that is about four-billion times fainter than can be seen by the human eye. It is looking at the slice of sky about the width of a dime at 75 feet. As we look at this picture, scientists consider that we are looking at the horizon of the galaxy – its outer edge. They also say that we could look in any direction and this is what we would see, for the universe is spaced somewhat evenly. Though this doesn’t jive with how old they say the universe is, the fact is it is a big place. And the God who put that all together knows how many hairs are on your head, keeps your tears in a bottle, and is looking out for you. The Psalmist asks, “What have I to fear?” With a God unimaginably bigger than this unimaginably big universe looking out for me, what can anyone do to me. Are you encouraged? I hope so. Mary understood this in a much smaller way, and she echoed the words of her Son who would later say, “Not my will but Your will be done.” We can hear the question, then, “Is there anything that limits His power?” and know in our hearts the answer is “Well, actually there is one thing.”

Our choices. There is this sin problem. We are born in sin, and we need to deal with it. It is not a small problem, and actually God has already dealt with it. It doesn’t automatically kick in, though. Remember the injections kids get before they go to school? By law children need vaccinations to protect from outbreaks of infectious diseases. The kid doesn’t have to do anything – when it is time, between the parents and the school and the public health board the child will get their inoculation. It’s not the same with this sin thing. God is offering forgiveness and abundant life and His presence as a gift. We have a choice – take it or go it on our own strength. Now, we make this decision initially and our life changes. The Holy Spirit is put as a seal on our heart, a guarantor. We are redeemed, sanctified, justified, propitiated, forgiven, set apart, adopted, snuggled by God says Bonnie, and the list goes on. But each and every day we need to continue to live in that decision, to renew that commitment that saw us not just accept Jesus as Saviour, but also as Lord! We are not saved anew every day, but we consecrate ourselves each day, each moment of each day to God. It is like Christmas is celebrated every day. Every day we experience the incarnation, the indwelling of God in our hearts anew. We can ask and even argue, “How can this be, this indwelling;” but don’t get distracted by semantics from what God wants to do in your life. Say with Mary, “"Behold, the bondservant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word."

The light that shone on Mary that day is the light that longs to shine on each of us from our heavenly Father everyday. It isn’t just a one-time occurrence kind of thing--it is a life-light. The only way to live in the life-light of God is to say, “May it be to me as you have said.” She was willingly obedient to do whatever God asked of her.
Was it because Mary was a totally different, amazing person that deserved this kind of blessing? If we look at the scope of Scripture we will see that God works with the regular, ordinary folk all the time. He chooses the smallest, the underdog, the failure, the outcast, the ordinary to do His extraordinary work. The only thing that matters is that my heart and your hearts are open and ready to say with Mary: “May it be to me as you have said.” Whatever comes my way, “May it be to me as you have said.” When I am in the valley, “May it be to me as you have said.” When I am on the mountaintop, “May it be to me as you have said.” Those ordinary words become extraordinary when we speak them to our God.

You might not feel like you have anything special to offer. Just remember that God chose ordinary Mary. He can and will choose ordinary you and me also. Today a light is dawning wherever a heart is completely submitting to God’s great plan.

2 comments:

patti j said...

thank you for sharing your blog with the public. We ran into it by church-hunting and quite enjoyed it!

Steve G said...

Thanks for stopping by, Patti. I am glad you enjoyed it. May God lead you to the church that is right for you.

Steve